It’s no secret that wearing a seat belt can greatly reduce the risk of injuries in the event of an accident. But at some point, most drivers hit the road without buckling up. If you were hurt in a collision but you weren’t strapped in, you might be wondering how this fact might affect your car insurance claim.
In many states, the “seat belt defense” is commonly used by insurance companies and personal injury defendants to reduce their liability. Even if the injured party played no role in causing the accident, failure to wear a seat belt may result in a reduction of damages. The rationalization here is that if the injured person had been wearing a seat belt, they might not have been injured or their injuries may have been less severe.
How to Overcome the Seat Belt Use Defense in California
In the state of California, violating the seat belt law does not necessarily mean the injured party’s damages will be reduced; however, juries are allowed to hear evidence of seat belt non-use when determining the plaintiff’s standard of reasonable care. The bottom line: If you were hurt in a crash but you weren’t buckled up, it is important that you hire an attorney to help you overcome the seat belt use defense.
For this defense to work, the defendant must be able to prove:
- The injured person should have used the seat belt through the exercise of ordinary and normal care; and
- The injury or loss would have been different if the injured person had been wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.
Given those requirements, the seat belt defense would not apply if your injuries would have still occurred and would have been just as severe had you been properly restrained. Your attorney might bring in accident reconstruction experts and medical experts to prove as much.
If you did not have access to a seat belt, this fact might also work in your favor. For example, let’s assume you were a passenger in a vehicle and your driver made an illegal turn, resulting in an accident. You were unrestrained, but there was no seat belt available to you. In this scenario, the seat belt defense might not apply because the defendant would not be able to prove that a person of ordinary prudence would have been restrained at the time of the crash.
Now let’s take that same scenario and assume there was a seat belt available, but the driver did not ask you to use it. Your attorney might argue that the driver was negligent by operating the vehicle while a passenger was unrestrained, which is a violation of California Vehicle Code section 27315.
If you believe the insurance company or opposing party might employ the seat belt use defense to dispute liability, it is important that you hire a lawyer to protect your rights. Attorney Michael D. Waks is well-versed in the laws that govern car accident liability. He can review the facts of your case for free and help you determine the most strategic approach to take. To schedule a consultation, call (562) 206-1939.
Comparative Negligence and Seat Belt Use in California Auto Accidents
Even if your seat belt non-use did in fact contribute to your injuries, your lawyer can fight to ensure the percentage of liability assigned to you is fair. California follows a pure comparative negligence system, which means if you were hurt in a car accident, the amount of damages you can recover will be reduced by your own percentage of fault. Depending on the facts surrounding your case—the cost of medical bills, the amount of time you were sidelined from work, etc.—a few percentage points could add up to tens of thousands of dollars.
For example, let’s assume a driver ran a red light and you swerved abruptly to avoid the collision. Your vehicle flipped and you were ejected because you were not wearing a seat belt. If you incurred $200,000 in damages but the jury finds that you were 20% responsible for your injuries, you would only be able to recover up to $160,000, which is a loss of $40,000.
At the Law Office of Michael D. Waks, we have a successful track record in car accident cases involving shared liability. Attorney Michael Waks can investigate your crash, gather evidence, and help you fight for the highest possible compensation.
What Should I Do If I Was Injured in a Car Accident but Not Wearing a Seat Belt?
The steps you should take after such an accident are the same as those you would take after any other collision. It is a common misconception that the claims process starts when you contact the insurance company, but it actually begins the moment a crash occurs. While at the scene, it is important that you are careful about what you say and do because your statements and actions can have a profound impact on your subsequent claim.
Here are a few tips to remember if you are injured in an accident but not wearing a seat belt:
- Check People for Injuries: Find out if anyone was severely injured and requires emergency medical assistance. If someone appears to have sustained a spinal cord injury, do not move them.
- Contact the Police: Call the police so an officer can attend the scene, direct traffic, and create an accident report. Request emergency care if necessary.
- Exchange Information: Exchange insurance and contact information with all drivers involved in the collision. Take photos of their driver’s licenses, license plate tags, and insurance cards for your records.
- Talk to Eyewitnesses: Nearby pedestrians, drivers, and workers might have seen the events leading up to the crash. Your attorney and the insurance company may want to speak to them when investigating your claim. Write down their names, email addresses, and phone numbers, and if they give you permission, use your phone to record their statements about what happened.
- Visit a Doctor: You should undergo a medical evaluation as soon as possible so your lawyer can tie your injuries to the crash and demonstrate that you have taken the necessary steps to mitigate your damages.
- Stay off Social Media: Do not post anything about your accident, injuries, or case on social media. The insurance adjuster might use your posts to dispute your claim.
- Speak with an Attorney: Contact the Law Office of Michael D. Waks at (562) 206-1939 to discuss your case. Michael Waks will answer your questions and help you make informed decisions regarding your claim.
Schedule a Free Consultation with a Long Beach Car Accident Lawyer
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If you are involved in a motor-vehicle collision, it’s important that you take the necessary steps to protect your rights. Download our Car Accident Emergency .PDF and keep it in your glovebox so you’re always prepared.
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