Can You Still File a Car Accident Claim if You Weren’t Wearing a Seatbelt?
There are approximately half a million auto accidents every year in the state of California. Of those accidents, about 200,000 resulted in injuries requiring medical attention, and nearly 3,000 accidents proved fatal. And while the state and auto manufacturers take steps to make the roads safer for motorists and pedestrians alike, one of the best ways to save lives on the road continues to be making sure that your seatbelt is fastened correctly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that wearing a seat belt can reduce your chances of serious injury or death by almost 50%. Knowing this, it makes sense that the laws require drivers to buckle up for safety.
But if, for whatever reason, you are not wearing a seatbelt, how will this impact your chances of recovering financial compensation for your personal injury claim?
California allows drivers who were not wearing their seatbelts to file an accident claim. While the law may frown upon your decision not to buckle up, that does not remove fault from a reckless driver or cancel out your right to recover compensation. However, your decision not to fasten your seatbelt will remain relevant to any forthcoming trial or insurance claim investigation.
As California is a comparative fault state, you may be held partially responsible for your injuries due to your failure to fasten up. But if the other party’s actions are determined to shoulder the more significant portion of the blame, then you could still reach a fair settlement to help pay for the cost of your medical bills and lost wages.
Still, it is advisable that you wear your seatbelt at all times while operating a motor vehicle. If you suffer injuries in an accident, the insurance company will likely claim that those injuries would’ve been less severe had you taken all necessary safety precautions, such as wearing a functioning seatbelt. As a result, your settlement may be reduced considerably.
What Does California Law Say About Wearing Seatbelts?
According to state law, only certain exempt individuals may drive or ride in a car without wearing a seatbelt. Those not required to wear seatbelts include USPS delivery drivers, waste collection workers, and those with medical disabilities who cannot wear seatbelts. Additionally, if you are riding mass transit and there are no safety harnesses available, then it will not be held against you for not wearing a seatbelt.
Small children may not need to wear a standard seatbelt, but they are still required to be buckled in for their safety and must be situated in a child’s car seat or booster seat. Failure to abide by these rules may result in tickets carrying financial penalties of up to $490.
Do You Have a Valid Reason for Not Wearing a Seatbelt?
If your case goes to trial, the jury will be asked to examine the evidence and determine where the fault lies and what factors contributed to a victim’s injuries. Some of these contributing factors may include the use of a seatbelt.
If a perfectly good seatbelt was within reach and simply not utilized, the jury is likely to view this negatively. If, however, you have a good reason as to why a seatbelt was not used, then the jury may respond favorably.
Reasons you may not have been wearing a seatbelt that day could include a working seatbelt being unavailable to you due to vehicle defect or disrepair. Or perhaps you had an injury that made it painful or impossible to wear a seatbelt or any other safety harness. Whatever the reason, it’s important to speak with your attorney about the particulars of your case before proceeding.
What is the Seatbelt Defense?
The at-fault party may elect to employ the ‘seat-belt defense,’ a recognized legal defense in California that posits that the severity of the injuries was worsened by the victim’s decision not to wear a seatbelt.
If the negligent driver attempts to victim-shame you, please speak with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible. While the seatbelt defense may provide misdirection in the courtroom, that smokescreen does not hide the fact that their negligence was the actual cause of the accident. You want a car accident attorney who knows how to challenge this defense and pursue the compensation that you rightfully deserve.
Can Passengers File an Accident Claim if They Weren’t Wearing a Seatbelt?
Just the same as any driver, cyclist, or pedestrian, a vehicle’s passenger has the right to pursue compensation by filing a car accident claim against the at-fault parties. The passenger’s ability to file a claim is in no way impacted by whether or not they were wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.
In fact, a passenger may have one additional means of recovering compensation; they may seek to sue their driver, too. California’s seat belt laws make it illegal for drivers to operate their vehicles if their passengers are not buckled in safely. You may decide to hold your driver partially responsible for your injuries if they fail to ensure your safety before taking the vehicle onto busy roads. To better understand your legal rights and responsibilities, speak with experienced car accident lawyers in California today.