S.D. Bills to Cut Lawsuit Damages Killed

February 8, 2005

Lawyers and insurance companies battled Monday in the South Dakota Legislature, and the lawyers won.

The tussle involved two bills designed to reduce damages in lawsuits filed to recover damages for injuries in traffic accidents.

One bill, HB1134, would have allowed those at fault in accidents to tell the judge or jury if people in the other vehicles were not wearing seat belts. That could have resulted in a 5 percent reduction in the damages that must be paid.

“It has to be shown that not wearing a seat belt somehow contributed to an injury,” said John Michels of Farmers Insurance.

The potential for reducing damages by 5 percent when people are not wearing seat belts may help settle some insurance claims, he said.

HB 1135, the other measure, would have forbidden uninsured drivers from getting damages for pain and suffering. They would have been paid only for medical costs, lost wages and vehicle damage.

Rep. Mark Willadsen (R-Sioux Falls) sponsor of both bills, said he offered them in hopes that more people would wear seat belts and get auto insurance.

But lawyers arguing against both bills said the victims in traffic accidents should not be punished for not wearing seat belts or having insurance.

“We should not re-victimize the victim,” said Tom Barnett, secretary-treasurer of the State Bar.

The House Judiciary Committee killed HB 1134 on an 11-1 vote. HB 1135 was unanimously rejected.

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