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McKee proposes modification to state's seat belt law

January 25, 2002

McKee proposes modification to state's seat belt law



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - A House of Delegates Committee on Thursday heard the story of 14-year-old Brandon Michael Shrader of Hagerstown, who wasn't wearing a seat belt when he died in a car accident.

Shrader was visiting friends in upper Montgomery County, Md., and was returning to their home with them on Aug. 19, 2000, when their vehicle was hit from behind.

Brandon's family later learned they couldn't sue the driver of the car, even though state law requires that minors be belted, said Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington.

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While the family wasn't sure if they wanted to sue, they felt a minor should have that right.

McKee introduced legislation on their behalf this session.

McKee asked members of the House Judiciary Committee to change the law so a lawsuit would be possible for young victims of future accidents.

Committee members' questions revealed their reservations about changing the law to make it easier for people to sue.

Lobbyists from the Maryland Defense Council and State Farm Insurance Agency testified against the bill.

Under McKee's bill, an innocent driver could be held liable, Defense Council lobbyist Margaret Fonshell Ward said.

It also would allow more children to sue parents than is already allowed under the law.

The law could create more problems than it solves because drivers would be tempted to keep looking over their shoulder to make sure children in the back seat haven't unbuckled their seat belts, State Farm lobbyist Lawrence Richardson said.

"It almost puts the driver in a situation - do you watch the kids or watch the road," he said.

Not being a lawyer or an insurance agent, McKee said he would leave the details of the legislation to the committee.

McKee is still recovering from a Dec. 27 accident in which he cracked several ribs and damaged his knee. His mother was seriously hurt.

"Seat belts and accidents are much more real to me now," McKee said after the hearing.

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