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Can You Sue If You Weren't Wearing a Seatbelt?

Driver wearing seatbelt in car

What happens if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt when you got into a car accident? Can you sue if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt? Yes, you can still file an injury claim against or sue the liable party, even if you did not have a seatbelt on at the time. However, your chances of winning your case or getting full compensation could be reduced.

What is the Seatbelt Defense?

Insurance companies will use the “seatbelt defense” if they find out that you (the claimant) were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of your accident. The basis of the seatbelt defense is that you knowingly made decisions and took steps that worsened your injuries and, therefore, you should at least be partially liable for your damages related to those injuries.

The seatbelt defense uses two legal premises to build its argument:

  • Comparative negligence: By not putting on your seatbelt despite reasonably understanding that it only helps prevent injuries in a crash, you could be argued as negligent. The insurance company will compare your negligence to that of the driver who hit you to try to reduce the amount of compensation you are owed. For example, if you are 30% negligent because you didn’t wear a seatbelt, then you can only collect up to 70% of your damages. Some states will bar you from getting any recovery if you are even 1% negligent or liable, though.
  • Failure to mitigate damages: You are expected to try to mitigate your damages and injuries in an accident and its aftermath. For example, you are expected to follow a doctor’s treatment orders, or else you could worsen your injuries and require further treatments. Failing to reduce your damages or the extent of your injuries when you reasonably could have done so can increase your negligence and liability. Not putting on a seatbelt can be seen as a failure to try to prevent yourself from being severely injured and accruing damages if a crash occurs.

However, it is important to note that not all states even allow the seatbelt defense to be used by an insurance company. States like Texas, South Carolina, Washington, Montana, New Mexico, and many more do not recognize the seatbelt defense. If your accident was in a state that prohibits the seatbelt defense, then you cannot be found partially liable for your injuries just because you did not have a seatbelt on when you crashed. Instead, you can only be found partially liable if you did something that contributed to the accident, not the injuries.

How to Prove You Were Wearing a Seatbelt

If you live in one of the few states that do allow the seatbelt defense, then you might have to find a way to prove that you were wearing a seatbelt. Oftentimes, the help of a mechanical engineer or a mechanic is required, though. A mechanical engineer can examine your seatbelt’s latch plate – where it connects to the frame of the vehicle – for signs of damage or abrasion, which only happens when the belt is secured properly during a crash. A local attorney can help you build your case by networking with engineers and other third-party experts who can testify against the opposition if it tries to say you were not wearing a seatbelt when you really were.

Wood Law Firm, LLP helps clients in Texas file all sorts of car accident cases, including for drivers who did not have a seatbelt on at the time. Contact our firm now to get our help.