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Tragic Accident on Indiana SR 37 Near Indianapolis Still Under Investigation

Steve Wagner

Five young men from Brownsburg were on their way home from a day exploring caves in southern Indiana when their Ford Taurus crossed the median and hit a minivan head on. Ryan Rickenbacker, Mathew Chambers, Noah Tex, Lucas Kenworthy, and Riley Hurst were northbound on Indiana SR 37 near Cragen Road in Morgan County when tragedy struck. For reasons still under investigation, their vehicle, driven by 17-year old Chambers, crossed into the southbound lane and collided head on with a Honda Odyssey carrying a family of four from Bloomington.

The deceased were Chambers, Tex, and Hurst, all 17, and 18-year old Kenworthy. 22-year old Rickenbacker, as well as the two adults and two children (aged seven and ten) in the minivan, were taken to area hospitals for non-life-threatening injuries. The four who were killed were not wearing seatbelts. All five survivors were buckled into their vehicles. The investigation is ongoing, and we are monitoring for updates.

Seatbelts a Key to Safety in Automobile Accidents

The number of adults injured in car accidents and taken to emergency rooms for treatment in 2012 in the United States topped 2.2 million, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The NHTSA, reporting on the policy impact of seatbelt requirements, found that seatbelt use reduces the risk of crash-related serious injury and death by about half. Still, millions of people drive without buckling up every day.

A 2014 fact sheet by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows seatbelt use in Indiana to be higher than the national average (94% vs. 86%). Both numbers, however, are based on surveys, so there is the possibility for over-reporting. In addition, the CDC reports that several groups are less likely to wear their seatbelts, as noted below.

  • Teens between 13-20. Of those who were fatally injured in car crashes in 2012, slightly more than half were wearing seatbelts.
  • Adults 18-34 are less likely to wear seatbelts than those over 35.
  • Men
  • Adults living in rural areas
  • Passengers sitting in the back seat
  • Those living in states with no or secondary enforcement seat belt laws.

Primary vs. Secondary Enforcement Laws

Primary enforcement seat belt laws allow law enforcement to pull over a vehicle and ticket for the violation of the seat belt requirement. Secondary enforcement seat belt laws only allows ticketing for violation of seat belt requirements if the officer has pulled the vehicle over for another offense. The laws vary by state and seat location of the individual. Thirty-four states plus the District of Columbia (DC) have primary seat belt laws for occupants of the front seats, while 28 states and DC have primary laws for those in the back seats. These laws can also vary by the age of the individual occupant.

Impact of Seat Belt Non-Use on Personal Injury or Wrongful Death Claims

States approach this in varying ways. Some allow the fact that the injured or deceased was not wearing a seatbelt to reduce liability; however, Indiana is NOT one of those states. The only exception might occur in instances of product liability, where a product manufacturer may be able to mitigate your claim by showing that you were not correctly using the product’s safety features. In short, do not allow the non-use of the seat belt to prevent you from pursuing a case against those who were negligent in operating a vehicle, thereby causing your injuries or the death of a loved one.

Were you recently involved in a car accident and experienced traumatic injury as the result of another’s negligence? Whether you were wearing your seatbelt or not, you may be eligible to receive damages that can cover medical expenses, lost wages, as well as pain and suffering. You may be grieving the loss of a loved one whose death you believe to be wrongful and the result of someone’s negligence. Let us help. Wagner Reese is an Indianapolis-based personal injury law firm with years of experience pursuing and handling vehicular accident and wrongful death cases. Call us now for a FREE consultation: (888) 204-8440.

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