Can I Recover Damages from a Car Accident if I Wasn’t Wearing a Seatbelt?
Getting behind the wheel requires a level of responsibility and awareness to keep both you and others safe. One of the first precautions you can take as an attentive and rational driver is to wear a seatbelt. Not wearing one puts you at risk for severe injuries or even death from an accident.
Despite statistics that show that more than 50% of people killed in vehicle crashes were not wearing a seatbelt, many people still drive without wearing one. Whether by accident or flat-out refusal, not wearing a seatbelt can affect a personal injury claim following an accident.
According to California law, anyone 16 and older is required to wear a seatbelt as the driver or passenger. If you choose not to wear one and become the victim of a car accident, the insurance company could handle your claim differently even if you were not at fault.
By hiring a personal injury attorney, you can receive legal guidance on how the use of seatbelts can affect your claim.
Benefits of Wearing a Seatbelt
Even if your vehicle is equipped with top-of-the-line safety features, wearing your seatbelt should become a natural driving habit. Consider the following benefits to doing one thing to protect yourself and your passengers.
- Seatbelts save lives. Countless studies and research prove this fact even in older model vehicles that do not have airbags.
- Seatbelts keep you in your seat upon impact. The force of a car accident can throw you through the windshield or loose inside the vehicle.
- Seatbelts work with airbags. An airbag system becomes ineffective unless you have on a seatbelt.
- Seatbelts prevent you from receiving a traffic ticket. Violating seatbelt laws can result in a fine and a mark on your driving record even if you are not found at fault for an accident.
- Seatbelts affect auto insurance rates. Those traffic tickets could cause your rates to skyrocket if the insurance company considers you a high-risk driver.
Dangers of Not Wearing a Seatbelt
Although some people may complain about bruising in a crash from a seatbelt, not wearing one is often more severe. In 2017, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported 14,955 passengers involved in vehicle crashes and were wearing seatbelts survived.
During the same year, 47% of people who died in motor vehicle crashes were not wearing seatbelts. Either not wearing a seatbelt or failing to wear one properly can come at a tremendous cost to your health.
Those who do not die may suffer serious injuries to the chest, abdomen, head, neck and spine. You and your passengers risk bone fractures, broken ribs, whiplash, internal bleeding, a collapsed lung, musculoskeletal damage and traumatic brain injury.
Additionally, many people have complications that last for months or even years after a motor vehicle collision. You, passengers and your family members can endure stressful and devastating consequences. Depression, PTSD and anxiety can follow a traumatic brain injury.
Emotionally, people who survive a traumatic crash experience a decrease in the quality of their life. Not only do you risk the high price of serious injury or death, but you can also face other costs.
Property damage and vehicle damage can land a devastating blow if you are at fault for the accident. Typically, you will be required to cover the costs of physical damage, medical expenses and vehicle damage through your auto insurance.
With these things in mind, take a few seconds and think about the consequences and dangers of not doing one simple thing. Before you decide to drive, consider wearing your seatbelt. It can be difficult to recover fully from some injuries.
Loss of function or lifelong pain can come at astronomical costs.
Insurance Claim or a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Typically, a car accident case begins as an insurance claim against the at-fault driver. When you get injured in a car accident and the other driver is insured, there are different ways of being compensated for your losses.
These include lost wages, medical expenses, and pain and suffering. The claims adjuster will investigate the accident to determine what happened and the extent of your injuries. After completing the investigation, the claims adjuster may either deny your claim or offer a settlement.
Your failure to wear a seatbelt might become a primary factor for a seemingly unfair low number. You may try to negotiate for more. Also, you may want to speak with a personal injury attorney before accepting the offer.
After reviewing the merits of your case, the attorney could file a personal injury lawsuit on your behalf. Whether you file an insurance claim or lawsuit, not wearing a seatbelt could keep you from receiving a higher financial settlement.
Seatbelts and Personal Injury Compensation
Whether you were not at fault or found to be at fault for an accident, not wearing a seatbelt while operating a vehicle does not stop you from filing a lawsuit under California law. Also, failing to observe motor vehicle laws does not automatically negate your right to receive compensation.
However, this will still be relevant information for an insurance company if your personal injury claim goes to trial. If you did not cause the accident, the defendant might use the “seatbelt defense.” This could be a way for them to decrease how much they will have to pay in damages.
A successful defense under this rule could mean the jury uses the information to calculate how much you can be awarded. This is due to comparative fault jurisdiction in California.
Essentially, the amount of damages you receive as the plaintiff decreases based on how much your negligence was at fault. The focus will be proving that wearing a seatbelt could have prevented your injuries.
The Seatbelt Defense
The insurance company or defendant may use the seatbelt defense in your personal injury claim. Their argument is your failure to wear a seatbelt is connected to the underlying car accident.
Even if you are not at fault, the theory behind this defense is your inaction contributed to the severity of injuries suffered by you and your passengers.
California law requires the driver who broke the rule that caused the accident to be financially responsible for the damages. Typically, the insurance provider for the at-fault party pays for the losses suffered by the victims.
Before you can receive compensation, you must prove that the other driver’s actions caused the collision. After the crash investigation is completed, either the defendant or their car insurance provider may use the seatbelt defense to avoid paying damages.
Your settlement could be reduced significantly if they win this argument.
In a lawsuit, the jury will be instructed to determine if and to what degree you were negligent in causing your own injury. They must reach a determination based on whether:
- The vehicle was equipped with a working seatbelt
- A reasonably careful person in your situation would use a seatbelt
- You failed to wear the seatbelt
- Your injuries would have been less severe if you wore a seatbelt
Help from an experienced personal injury attorney can review the facts of your case and prepare the best legal defense. This may require gathering evidence from medical and vehicular experts to support your claim.
Pure Comparative Negligence Law
Typically, the seatbelt defense is used in conjunction with the comparative negligence law in California. While the driver that caused the accident is responsible for paying for injuries, the facts of the case determine the percentage awarded.
For instance, you could be 99% to blame for the damages. Yet, you could still recover 1% of compensation under the pure comparative negligence law.
Alternately, the other driver could be 100% to blame for the accident. When the seatbelt defense is accepted as proof of your comparative negligence, it is enough to reduce your allowed compensation amount.
Be Prepared with a Personal Injury Attorney by Your Side
In California, not being at-fault for an accident is not a guarantee that you will receive a high settlement. Choosing not to wear a seatbelt can make a huge difference. As you try to recover from this scary situation, an attorney can help resolve your personal injury claim.