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What If I Was Not Wearing a Seat Belt at the Time of My Accident?

Posted on June 21, 2018 by Kelly Wolford
Driver not wearing seatbelt about to get accident.

Seat belts are a critical piece of safety equipment that can save your life. If you’re in a car accident, it can keep you in place and prevent you from getting harmed. However, some people choose not to wear a seat belt. Others may temporarily take their seat belt off while traveling to take care of children, pets, and other tasks in the car.

There’s no good time to have your seat belt off. Accidents don’t wait for people to buckle up.

In many states, failure to wear a seat belt doesn’t affect a victim’s legal right to compensation. For example, Driver 1 is not wearing a seat belt and is stopped at a red light. Driver 2 is not paying attention and rear-ends Driver 1. Driver 2 is entirely at fault in this situation. Even though Driver 1 was not wearing a seat belt, it doesn’t change the fact that Driver 2’s negligence was the cause of the accident and Driver 1’s injuries. Whether a victim was wearing a seat belt doesn’t affect fault for an accident.

However, it’s important to note that several states, including New York, may reduce a victim’s potential damages if the victim wasn’t wearing a seat belt at the time of the injury.

New York and the ‘Seat Belt Defense’

In New York, seat belts are mandatory for nearly everyone. Drivers and passengers in the front seat and children under 16 must wear seat belts regardless of where they sit in the car. The state strictly enforces the law, and law enforcement officers can issue tickets solely for failure to wear a seat belt. The state also encourages the use of seat belts by potentially limiting recovery in cases where the use of a seat belt may have prevented an injury or made it less severe.

In New York and 14 other states, a victim’s failure to use a seat belt may reduce the damages that a victim can recover. In an accident where a victim didn’t wear a seat belt, a defendant can raise something called a “seat belt defense.” The seat belt defense allows a defendant to argue that the plaintiff’s failure to use a seat belt resulted in injuries that otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

Let’s look at the example above again where Driver 1 is rear-ended by Driver 2. For example, when Driver 1 is hit, he is thrown forward and hits his head on the steering wheel. A seat belt likely would have prevented that injury. In New York, if Driver 1 wasn’t wearing a seat belt and received injuries that a seat belt would have prevented, then Driver 2 may not be liable for those injuries. Driver 2 would be able to use the seat belt defense and would potentially not be responsible for those specific injuries. Driver 2 will still be liable for Driver 1’s injuries that were not caused by the failure to buckle up, property damage, and injuries to those wearing seat belts.

How Does the Seat Belt Defense Work?

If the victim wasn’t wearing a seat belt, the seat belt defense could significantly complicate a claim for damages. The driver at fault in an accident will have to show how the victim’s failure to wear a seat belt allowed or exacerbated an injury. They can do this through expert analysis and testimony.

Car accident reconstruction, medical testimony, and engineering expertise may all be used to show how the victim was injured in the accident and how a seat belt may have reduced or prevented the injury. It’s complicated and technical work that can create challenges for a victim.

It can be challenging to fight a seat belt defense, but it can be done in some situations. A lawyer can work with you to examine the defendant’s case and look for flaws in the defense’s analysis. The unbelted victim’s goal is to show how wearing a seat belt would not have made a difference in the injuries sustained.

What Happens If the Seat Belt Defense Is Successful?

If a victim was not wearing a seat belt, and a defendant successfully uses the seat belt defense, the victim’s damages may be reduced. It’s important to understand though that the seat belt defense does not get a defendant off the hook for everything. It only reduces their liability for injuries that they can show a seat belt would have mitigated or prevented.

If you were injured in a car accident and you weren’t wearing a seat belt, it is likely still worth pursuing a claim. Property damage and other personal injuries may be included. A car accident lawyer can work with you to help you recover the maximum compensation you deserve for your losses and injuries. They understand how to build the strongest they case they can to seek the compensation you deserve.

If You’ve Been Injured, Let Us Help

Injuries from a car accident are painful and disabling. We understand how challenging it can be to recover. The Albany car accident lawyers of Powers & Santola, LLP proudly serve the Upstate New York region. We’ve helped victims across the region seek justice and recover the resources they need to heal.

Whether you were wearing a seat belt during your accident or not, there may be ways for you to recover damages. We’re ready to help you to understand your best legal options to pursue fair compensation. Contact us today by phone or online for a free consultation.