not wearing seat belt

Can You Still Get Compensation for a Car Accident if You Were Not Wearing a Seat Belt?

When you get into a vehicle, the safest thing that you can do is wear a seat belt. Upon choosing not to wear your seat belt, you put yourself at risk in the instance a crash occurs. If you are involved in a vehicle wreck while not wearing your seat belt, you might be at risk of not being able to recover the damages you are entitled to due to the accident. The damages could potentially include anything from medical expenses to lost earnings, and it can be financially detrimental to lose these benefits. So, remember to wear your seat belt!

Insurance Company Will Do What It Takes to Reduce Your Claim

You can seriously hurt your chances of attaining full compensation if you were not wearing a seatbelt and were injured in a car accident that was the result of another driver’s recklessness. Every state in the country, except New Hampshire, requires adults to have their seatbelts on while the vehicle is in motion.

The person causing the crash is known as the negligent party in a motor vehicle accident. Stemming from this, the driver that broke a safety regulation is held negligent per se in such accidents. This is even when their actions did not directly contribute to the accident or their injuries.

California recognizes ‘seatbelt defense.’ You may not be able to sue the negligent party for complete damages if you were found to be breaking the law.

The defense will be favorable to the motorist that initiated the accident. The jury may hold you at fault partially and even though you may be able to sue the responsible party, it may not be for the full amount. In addition, you will not be able to obtain any compensation for the injuries and damages you sustained because you were not wearing a seatbelt.

Seat Belt Laws in California

Under California law, motorists and passengers must wear a seat belt when the car is in motion, and kids must be restrained in suitable car seats and booster seats. If you violate the seat belt regulations in California, it can lead to a minimum fine of $162 for an adult who is not buckled or $465 for a minor below 16 years of age.

If you sustain injuries in a vehicle crash while not wearing a seat belt, you may still be able to collect compensation from the reckless party responsible for the crash. But this situation may lead to a reduction in your financial recovery.

Seat Belt Defense

The defendant or their legal counsel may assert the seat belt defense. The defendant might claim that the injuries the victim sustained would’ve been significantly lesser if they were wearing a seat belt. Further, they may contend that you should not receive compensatory damages for something that was, at least in part, your fault.

Under California law, it is clear that the failure to wear a seat belt does not preclude you from filing a claim for compensation arising from the incident. You are still entitled to pursue a claim.

But the court will establish whether your injuries could have been prevented if you were wearing a seat belt. In terms of your recovery, only those damages that could have been avoided can be excluded from your compensatory damages amount. You may still be entitled to compensation for the other injuries you sustained.

The jury might be given instructions to contemplate how you affected your injuries due to the inability to wear a seat belt. In case the insurer can successfully show that your failure to wear a seat belt led to most of your injuries, it may substantially reduce the compensation amount you receive.

Arguments against the Seat Belt Defense

There may be various legal arguments that your attorney may be able to make against the seat belt defense, including:

  • The failure to wear the seat belt did not lead to the accident, so a victim should not be penalized for another’s reckless actions.
  • The failure to use a seat belt did not contradict the need to mitigate damages, which can only be undertaken after an accident, not during the accident.
  • Plaintiffs should not need to anticipate other’s negligence.
  • An accurate assessment of what the injuries would have been if the plaintiff had worn a seat belt cannot be made.
  • Seat belt tests on dummies cannot correctly reflect the damages the victim may have suffered.

Suing for Damages

The law does not prevent you from seeking the compensation to which you are entitled if you are involved in a wreck caused due to someone else’s negligence, even though you weren’t wearing a seat belt. It simply limits what you can claim in terms of damages as you were in violation of the law yourself.

The judge, jury, and insurers involved in this litigation process will try to find ways to keep you from recovering the damages you are entitled to since you were not doing what is thought to be safest. You might still be able to collect some amount of the funds you want, but you will not be able to get it all.

Your best bet if you were involved in a crash of this nature is to consult an experienced personal injury lawyer. There are multiple laws to consider, numerous regulations at play, and so many legal apertures that there might be a possibility you can claim the damages you feel are fair.

California Pure Comparative Fault Law

The law of pure comparative negligence is applicable in California. Even if the injured party is 99 percent responsible for a crash, state courts allow them to collect compensation.

For instance, let us say your injuries are determined to be almost entirely due to your inability to wear a seatbelt. You are found to be 95 percent at fault, and the other motorist is considered five percent at fault. In such circumstances, in a “pure” comparative fault state such as California, you can still collect five percent of your damages.

In order to prove the defendant’s liability and maximize a recovery award, your attorney will have to prove that the defendant owed you a duty of care, breached this duty, and caused your crash. 

Protecting Your Right to Collect Compensation

Following a California vehicle crash, you have up to two years to file a personal injury lawsuit. The most effective way to protect your right to a fair settlement amount is to have an accomplished personal injury lawyer advocating your best interests throughout the judicial process.

At the law offices of Garmo & Garmo in La Mesa, we are committed to helping Southern California residents acquire the personal injury compensation necessary for them to move ahead with their lives after a car wreck. For a no-obligation consultation with a qualified personal injury attorney, call today at (619) 441-2500.