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What if I was not wearing a seat belt at the time of my accident? Can I still recover damages?
- March 29, 2017
Every state with the exception of New Hampshire requires drivers and passengers to wear seat belts while in a vehicle. If you are involved in a car accident and an investigation determines that you were not wearing a seat belt, whether that affects your damages claim against the other driver will depend on your state.
The majority of the states do not allow what’s known as the seat belt defense, where the defense claims that the at-fault driver shouldn’t need to pay as much in damages because the victim wasn’t fulfilling their legal obligation to wear a seat belt. There are 16 states that currently allow some form of the seat belt defense, which are Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, West Virginia and Wisconsin. If you don’t live in one of these states, failure to wear a seat belt will not have any effect on your damages claim.
The seat belt defense is controversial, and the maximum amount that damages can be reduced because of this defense is 15 percent. If you live in one of the 16 states that allows the seat belt defense, the other driver’s insurance adjuster could use it in an attempt to get you to accept a settlement for a lower amount.
If your case ends up going to court, then you can expect the defense attorney to present that argument that your car had working seat belts which you could have been using at the time of the accident. The attorney will then explain that the injuries you suffered in the car crash are at least partially because of your failure to buckle your seat belt, and that this means that his client shouldn’t be liable for the full amount. He will also most likely call on expert witnesses who can testify about the effectiveness of seat belts in preventing injuries, and how you could have reduced or prevented your injuries by wearing your seat belt.
The critical factor in the seat belt defense is proving that the driver’s injuries were at least partially caused by his failure to wear a seat belt. This is why defense attorneys use expert witnesses who can make this case to the judge and jury. Depending on the type of injuries you suffered, this could be easy or difficult for the defense to prove. If another car ran into your driver’s side door and you suffered an injury to your left arm, it may be hard for the defense to make the argument that your lack of a seat belt had anything to do with your injuries. If you get rear ended and suffer whiplash, on the other hand, then it’s more likely that the defense can prove that a seat belt would have helped lessen your injuries.
What if you suffered injuries as a passenger in a vehicle that was involved in a car accident? If the accident took place in one of those aforementioned 16 states, then the at-fault driver can still use the seat belt defense if you weren’t buckled in. However, the driver of the car that you were in would be responsible for ensuring that all his passengers were wearing their seat belts, so if you weren’t, he could be considered liable for your injuries.
If you were suffered an injury in a car accident, it’s always smart to consult with a personal injury attorney who can advise you on what to say and do going forward. Your attorney can also represent you in communications with the other party’s insurance company and in court, if that becomes necessary. It’s especially important that you consult with an attorney if you weren’t wearing your seat belt at the time of the accident and you live in a state that allows the seat belt defense. It’s probable that the other party’s insurance company or defense attorney will use the seat belt defense to try and reduce the amount of the damages. An attorney can help build your case so you have a better chance at getting the full amount.