The law is pretty clear in most states: you must wear a seatbelt. This requirement is no joke and is in place for a reason. However, what happens if you are in a car accident and were not wearing a seatbelt?
This omission could very well have a negative effect on your claim. However, how much of an effect will it have?
We have asked attorney, Alaina Sullivan, about how wearing, or not wearing, a seatbelt would affect your case. Here is what she had to say:
The Seatbelt Defense
In a handful of states, a defense to personal injury claims exists known as the “seatbelt defense.” Essentially, this defense reduces the amount of recovery that would be awarded to the victim of a car accident due to the fact that the victim was not wearing a seatbelt at the time.
The states that allow this defense include:
This defense applies in these states regardless of the fault of the other driver.
How It Works
Two different lines of thoughts exist under the seatbelt defense. The first is the theory of comparative negligence. Under the “pure” comparative negligence theory, a plaintiff may not recover for injuries if the plaintiff/victim is found to be more than 50 percent at fault for the accident.
However, many states utilize the modified comparative negligence model where the plaintiff’s recovery is reduced simply by the percentage of fault he or she played into the accident. Other states reduce damages based on the amount the injured party failed to mitigate the damages resulting from the accident.
Therefore, by not wearing a seatbelt, one could argue that he or she did not take a reasonable action to reduce or limit the extent of the injury.
Seatbelt Laws by State
It is important to note if you were wearing your seatbelt at the time of the accident because seatbelt laws vary by state. For example, if you are in an accident in Florida, the law requires that the driver and any passengers in the front seat be wearing their seatbelt at all times. In addition, anyone in the vehicle under the age of 18 must wear their seatbelt. New Hampshire on the other hand, does not have any enforceable seatbelt laws.
Being able to prove that your seatbelt was on will help you receive the compensation that you are owed. Evidence that proves your seatbelt usage can be found in photos and videos of the accident. Gathering witness statements immediately will help with small details like seatbelt usage. Injuries and damage to the car are also good indicators of seatbelt usage and investigators will be able to identify who was wearing their seatbelt. Depending on the severity of the crash, a seatbelt will often leave some sort of abrasion.
When it comes to personal injury, wearing your seatbelt has only positive consequences. If you are in an accident, your injuries will be less severe and you will be able to receive a higher percentage of the damages that you claim.
Is It Still Worth Filing a Claim?
While the seatbelt defense can change the amount of your claim, it doesn't necessarily sink your claim. Some states, including Hawaii, North Dakota, Indiana, Mississippi, and Nevada have no clear rules that would be for or against the seatbelt defense. The remainder of the states do not allow the defense.
This is not to say that seatbelts are not required, but the states only consider the seatbelt use as a factor in the accident.
Therefore, if it is determined that your injuries would not be as serious had you chosen to wear a seatbelt, that could reduce your damages received.
However, you will not be completely barred from seeking damages if you were not wearing a seatbelt.
A silver lining does exist in the states that do utilize the seatbelt defense. Many of these states due limit the reduction given for damage claims to make the seatbelt defense less harsh. Many of these states will limit the reduction to 15 percent or less.
That way, the other party is still held liable for his or her actions that may have caused the accident despite the fact you were not wearing a seatbelt.
Contact an Attorney Today
If you have been involved in a car accident and were not wearing a seatbelt, you should contact an attorney today to discuss your case if you do not currently have a lawyer or have any questions.
A licensed personal injury attorney will be able to evaluate your case and determine if you have a claim against the other party’s insurance company.
To receive the compensation for your medical bills, property damages, and pain and suffering, you should speak with a personal injury attorney in your area today.