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How can Seat belts Affect your Personal Injury Claim?

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Everyone knows that seat belts can save lives. Unfortunately, some people do not wear their seat belts and suffer catastrophic injuries in an accident as a result. In addition to preventing severe injuries, wearing a seat belt can also support your personal injury claim, should you get into an accident.

Different Types of Accident Negligence Standards

To better understand how a seat belt violation may damage your personal injury claim, it is important to know the different types of accident negligence mechanisms:

  • Contributory negligence: accident victims who contribute any amount of fault to an accident cannot recover any compensation from other parties. This doctrine is only used in a small number of states.
  • Comparative negligence: accident victims who contribute to an accident in some way can claim compensation for their damages, but the recovery amount will be reduced by their percentage of fault in the accident. For instance, drivers who are found to be 20% at fault for an accident will have their compensation package reduced by 20%.
  • Modified comparative negligence: similar to comparative negligence, a 50% or 51% threshold is used to determine which driver in an accident can recover damages. Drivers found to be 50% or 51% at fault for an accident (depending on the state) cannot seek any recovery for the accident. This makes determining the liable party crucial in states that use modified comparative negligence.

In contributory negligence jurisdictions, a plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt may not come into play. Since wearing a seat belt does not contribute to a crash, the jury typically does not hear evidence about the seat belt violation. So, seat belt violations may not directly hurt your personal injury claim in contributory negligence states.

Conversely, jurisdictions with comparative negligence may consider to what extent not wearing a seat belt contributed to the accident victim’s injuries. Since seat belts have been proven to prevent or mitigate catastrophic injuries, a seat belt violation may restrict the victim’s damage recovery package. In this instance, the court will help decide to what extent a seat belt may have been able to prevent the injuries.

Mitigation of Damages and the “Seat Belt Defense”

Similar to the comparative negligence recovery package, plaintiffs in personal injury cases are required to make an effort to mitigate their damages. On the road, drivers are required to take reasonable measures to protect themselves and prevent additional injury. Failure to do so may reduce the damages award. Not wearing a seat belt may be deemed a failure to mitigate damages.

If a seat belt would not have prevented or mitigated the plaintiff’s injuries, however, the seat belt violation may be irrelevant. The defense is required to establish whether the driver’s injuries would have been less severe had they been buckled up. Oftentimes, the insurance company will pursue this “seat belt defense” and argue the seat belt violation exacerbated the plaintiff’s medical injuries. 

To speak about these requirements, Attorney Gary Christmas provides some insight into what insurance companies look for in a seat belt violation accident.

“When someone does not wear a seat belt during an accident, the insurance companies will do everything in their power to prove the failure to mitigate damages,” said Christmas. “The car insurance companies may be aggressive in trying to prove your seat belt violation. Like in any other car accident, it is important to contact a seasoned car accident attorney before you talk to the insurance company.”

While a seat belt violation may or may not impact your personal injury claim, it is important to protect your health and wear a seat belt at all times when driving. Not only can wearing a seat belt prevent serious injuries, it can also help save you trouble in an accident case.