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Fatal Oklahoma Car Accident Reminds Us of Passenger Safety

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A fatal car accident in Adair County Oklahoma has claimed the life of a 50 year-old Arkansas man. According to KTUL.com, the accident occurred when an elderly woman rear-ended a large truck as it was stopped to make a left hand turn. The elderly woman and her front seat passenger both had on their seat belts and were transported to an Arkansas hospital in critical condition.

The fifty year-old back seat passenger did not have on his seatbelt and was pinned under the car according to the news story. He was sadly pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the large truck was apparently uninjured. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the deceased as well as with those injured.

This tragic accident serves as a costly reminder of a couple of things. First, the importance of wearing one’s seatbelt cannot be understated. Statistics do not lie and it’s undisputed that wearing one’s seatbelt greatly reduces the likelihood of a fatal injury in a car wreck.

Secondly, the car accident brings to point a couple of old and new points of Oklahoma law. On the outset, Oklahoma law will control this accident given it occurred in our state’s boundaries. Further, when a passenger in a car driven by a negligent party is injured, that passenger can seek recourse against the driver’s insurance as well as seek uninsured motorist benefits from his or her own insurance. Before “lawsuit immunity” (I refuse to call it reform as every provision benefited the Defendant in a civil lawsuit) was instituted last November, Oklahoma law held that a passenger could not be held even 1% liable unless there was a showing of gross misconduct on behalf of the passenger. As a general rule this still applies. However, under pre-November 2009 laws, whether someone was wearing a seatbelt was not admissible in trial whereas it is now relevant.

Accordingly, the insurance companies in this matter should not be allowed to even allege contributory negligence on behalf of the critically injured passenger. However, it is not as cut and dried with the deceased passenger since he apparently failed to wear his seatbelt.