A handful of lawyers got into a debate about seat belts during a meeting at the statehouse this morning.
Defense attorneys are asking legislators to change state law so those who are not wearing a seat belt when they’re in a wreck assume more financial responsibility for their injuries. Under current law, a person in a wreck who’s not wearing a seat belt can only be held liable for five percent of the costs.
“Someone not wearing a seat belt for whatever reason, they have assumed some risk,” said Scott Sundstrom, a lobbyist for the Iowa Defense Counsel Association. “They have taken an activity that does raise their risk for harm.”
Bill Wimmer, a lawyer/lobbyist who opposes the bill, posed a question.
“What happens in a situation where you have a young family, a father and mother driving down the road, a two month old in a carseat in the back and the two month old needs attention?” Wimmer asked. “Mom unbuckles her seat belt, takes care of that situation and while she’s unbuckled some drunk runs a stop sign and hits them.”
Wimmer suggested the woman could be held financially liable for her injuries and any injuries to her child, prompting Representative Matt Windschitl, a Republican from Missouri Valley, to offer this response: “I don’t mean to sound callous, but I’ve got kids. I’ve been in that situation. We pull over.”
Windschitl was one of three legislators who held a subcommittee meeting early this morning to review the legislation and the trio heard from several lawyers. Tom Drew served as president of the Iowa Trial Lawyers Association in 2005 and he called the bill a solution in search of a problem.
“We’ve got better things to do in this state than worry about this type of thing, for sure,” Drew told reporters after the meeting.
Representative Mark Brandenburg, a Republican from Council Bluffs, told reporters he’s “on the fence” about the bill, but he helped move the proposal forward so the full House Judiciary Committee can review it.
“There was a lot of good discussion this morning and I think there can be a lot more,” Brandenburg said. “And I’d just like to have more of the committee members have a chance to have some input on it.”
Grinnell Mutual and The Property Casualty Insurers Association are registered in favor of the bill. The Iowa State Police Association supports it, too. Other insurance companies like State Farm and AIG are registered as “undecided” on the legislation.