If you are in a car accident, you can bring a personal injury lawsuit against the negligent party. People often choose to sue because the compensation offer from the guilty party’s insurer was so low that it would not cover their incurred expenses. Sometimes, people sue because they were seriously injured and they they will need lifetime medical care or can no longer work.
Whatever the reason for a legal claim after a vehicle accident, failure to wear a seat belt can affect your ability to recover compensation for your damages. Not wearing a seat belt could help support the defendant’s case because it may be seen that you caused your own injuries by not wearing a seat belt.
This legal doctrine dictates that plaintiffs who are even the slightest bit at fault for causing a vehicle accident cannot recover compensation from any parties involved. Even if the other party was 99 percent responsible for the accident, the plaintiff cannot recover damages.
It is easy to see why wearing a seat belt may be imperative in the few states that apply contributory negligence. However, states vary on whether to allow evidence of a plaintiff’s seat belt use to demonstrate contributory negligence. Virginia practices contributory negligence, but it does not allow seat belt use evidence in court. The reasoning is that seat belt use has no bearing on the cause of an accident.
Most states practice the doctrine of comparative negligence in car accident claims. Under comparative negligence, both parties are assigned a percentage of fault. Their percentage of fault will be deducted from their total recoverable amount.
Modified Comparative Negligence
This approach is the same as comparative negligence except that plaintiffs who are more than a certain amount at fault cannot recover for their injuries. Most states use either 50 or 51 percent as the cap. That means that plaintiffs who are 50 percent or more responsible for an accident cannot recover damages for their injuries.
States that use comparative or modified comparative negligence vary on whether they allow a judge or jury to hear evidence of an accident victim’s failure to wear a seat belt. Their rationale is that while a seat belt cannot prevent an accident, it can lessen injuries.
Mitigation of Damages
An additional concept in a car accident claim is the requirement that plaintiffs mitigate their damages. This means that the law requires a plaintiff to take reasonable steps to prevent further injury. Their failure to mitigate damages may reduce their compensation award. Most states, including Virginia, consider not wearing a seat belt as a failure to mitigate damages.
It is important to note that seat belt use is only relevant in specific car accident claims. If a person’s injuries were not related to their failure to wear a seat belt, the issue might be invalid.
How Do Seat Belts Lessen Accident Injuries?
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, nearly half of the 22,215 passenger vehicle occupants killed in 2019 were not wearing a seat belt. That is roughly 11,000 lives that could have potentially been saved if they were wearing a seat belt.
Every state requires passengers and drivers to use a seat belt. Many states consider not wearing a seat belt to be a primary infraction for which a motorist can be given a citation. Along with seat belt use, all states require approved restraints for children of all ages.
In an accident, a seat belt can lessen injuries because of the following:
- Keeps occupants inside the vehicle. A person can be ejected from the vehicle in an accident. People thrown from a vehicle are more likely to be fatally injured.
- Spreads the force of the collision. Lap and shoulder belts spread the force of the crash over wider areas of the body, putting less stress on any one part. This can lessen the severity of injuries.
- Keeps the head and upper body safer. A shoulder strap will keep your upper body and head away from the steering wheel, dashboard, and other vehicle parts that can cause significant injuries.
- Works with air bags. Airbags are not a substitute for seat belts. They do not offer the all-around body protection that a seat belt does. In fact, a seat belt can also help prevent serious injuries from a deploying airbag.
- Can help prevent traumatic injuries. Spinal cord and brain injuries are not uncommon in car accidents. A correctly worn seat belt provides extra protection for these fragile areas.
- Keeps the driver in the position to react. If your car starts to skid or spin, a seat belt can hold you in the proper position to react to the situation. Drivers that do not buckle up are more likely to lose control of their vehicle.
- Slows the body. If you are not buckled up, your body will continue moving at the same speed of the vehicle in a crash. This could cause serious injury if you hit the dashboard, side window, or other parts of the car. A seat belt will keep you secured in your seat, slowing your body’s reaction to a sudden impact or stop.
What are Good Seat Belt Tips?
Wearing a seat belt can save your life and legal claim if you are ever involved in an accident. The following are good seat belt safety tips:
- Do not start the engine until everyone in the vehicle is buckled up. Make this a family rule and a requirement as teenagers begin to drive.
- Wear the seat belt correctly. A seat belt is meant to go over your hips and shoulders to offer the most protection. There should not be any slack in it, and it should snugly secure your hips and rest on your collar bone. Pregnant women should never put the seat belt across their stomach. Wearing a seat belt improperly could actually cause harm.
- Keep a good posture while driving. Doing so enables you to react more quickly when needed.
- Keep children in the back seat. Each state has recommended safety restraints for children, from newborns to teenagers. Anyone under 13 years old should stay secured in the back seat.
- Instill good habits in your children. Teenage boys are among the highest age group to suffer injuries in accidents, often due to the failure to wear a seat belt. Instill the importance of wearing a seat belt at a young age, and do not stop the conversation until your children are grown.
Virginia Beach Car Accident Lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC Advocate for Seat Belt Use and Safety
A car accident can turn a person’s life upside down. Wearing a seat belt can save your life and your legal claim. If you were recently involved in a collision, our skilled Virginia Beach car accident lawyers at Anchor Legal Group, PLLC can protect your rights. Contact us online or call us at 757-LAW-0000 today to set up a free consultation. Located in Virginia Beach, we serve clients throughout Chesapeake, Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, and Eastern Shore, Virginia. We also serve our clients throughout the United States through our network of associated attorneys.