What If I Was in a Car Accident With No Seat Belt?

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Seat belts save approximately 15,000 lives in the United States each year (NHTSA, Seat Belts). But what happens when a car accident occurs and someone isn’t wearing one?

What Happens If You’re in a Car Accident With No Seat Belt in California?

If you’re in a car accident with no seat belt, you may still receive compensation from the party at fault. The amount of compensation may be reduced to the extent that your injuries are more severe than they would have been if you wore a seat belt. You may receive a ticket for failing to wear a seat belt. However, the ticket should not directly impact the claim for compensation.

Can you get compensated for a car accident if you aren’t wearing a seat belt?

Yes, you can get compensated for a car accident if you aren’t wearing a seat belt. The rules of fault for the accident still apply, so the at-fault driver is still responsible to pay compensation. However, failing to wear a seat belt may reduce the amount of damages to what you would have likely received if you had been wearing a seat belt.

Do you get less in compensation if you aren’t wearing a seat belt in a car accident?

If you aren’t wearing a seat belt in a car accident, you may receive less in compensation. The amount you get may be reduced to what your injuries likely would have been with seat belt use. Often, the parties rely on expert witnesses to argue the extent to which injuries were made worse by failing to wear a seat belt.

Is the legal process any different for car accident claims where a victim wasn’t wearing a seat belt?

Failing to wear a seat belt is an affirmative defense to a car accident claim in California. The defense may ask the court to instruct the jury about the lack of seat belt use. Expert witnesses may explain how injuries would have been different if the person had been wearing the seat belt. Compensation may still be awarded.

The Seat Belt Defense for Car Accidents

Accident victims who aren’t wearing their seatbelt are still victims. California law recognizes and addresses the lack of seat belt use. It is an affirmative defense that the party responsible for the accident may raise.

With California using a system of pure comparative negligence, it is unlikely that failing to wear a seat belt will be completely fatal to receiving compensation unless the evidence shows that all injuries would have been prevented by using a seat belt.

However, failing to wear a seat belt may reduce the amount that the victim receives. The jury must weigh the extent to which failing to wear a seat belt made the victim’s injuries worse.

California law not only recognizes the seat belt defense, but they have formalized it with a law and with a uniform civil jury instruction. California Vehicle Code § 27315(i) states that a party may prove negligence on the grounds of failing to wear a seat belt, although a violation of seat belts law is not negligence per se.

California civil jury instruction CACI No. 712 states that a jury may find for the affirmative defense of failing to wear a seat belt in a car accident claim, if the following are present:

  • A seat belt was available
  • A reasonably careful person would have used a seat belt
  • The party didn’t wear a seat belt
  • Injuries would have been avoided or less severe if the person had used a seat belt

If these facts are present, the jury may find that failing to wear a seat belt is an affirmative defense. Then, the jury may reduce the victim’s compensation.

The use of expert witnesses to examine injuries

A central question to any car accident case involving no seat belt is the extent to which injury may have been avoided by wearing a seat belt. The parties may not rely on conjecture. This necessitates using accident reconstruction and medical experts to testify hypothetically.

For an accident victim, responding to the defense expert is critically important. Effective cross examination and presentation of a plaintiff’s expert may be key for a victim to receive fair compensation for the claim.

Sources:

Franklin v. Gibson, 138 Cal.App.3d 340, 343 (1982) (The jury may apportion damages to the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt; however, it must be based on evidence presented by the parties and not merely conjecture).

Truman v. Vargas, 275 Cal.App.2d 976, 983 (1969) (Negligence for failing to wear a seat belt must be proven from all the facts, rather than as per se negligence).

Housley v. Godinez, 4 Cal.App.4th 737, 747 (1992) (The court allowed the seat belt defense. While violating the seat belt law is not negligence per se, the jury may be aware of the existence of a seat belt law when they determine whether it is reasonable to ride without a seat belt).

The seat belt defense in claims involving minors

As of this writing, there is no California case law on whether the seat belt defense applies when the victim is a minor under the age 16.

State differences in seat belt defense

Note that different states treat the lack of seat belt use differently. Many states do not allow the defense to raise seat belt use as a defense. Their argument is that wearing a seat belt or not is not what caused the accident, and that a person cannot fail to mitigate damages before the accident even occurs. These states reason that failing to mitigate damages is something that happens after the damages have been incurred – like failing to follow a medical care plan. Be sure to identify the law that applies in your case, understanding that there are significant differences between states.

Compensation for Car Accident Victims Not Wearing a Seat Belt

Our lawyers want you to receive the amount that you deserve, regardless of whether seat belts were in use. We work on behalf of accident victims to protect your rights and pursue your compensation.

Contact Sargent Law Firm Injury Lawyers today to talk about your case.

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