Seat Belt Laws and Car Accidents

Car accidents often lead to wrongful death or serious personal injuries, including amputation, traumatic brain injury (TBI), concussion, neck and back injuries, fractures, paralysis, and other severe damages.  Occasionally, passengers in a motor vehicle are not wearing their seat belt at the time of the crash. How does this impact the right to recover compensation for personal injury or wrongful death suffered in a car accident?  According to a leading personal injury lawyer, the answer is “it depends.”

Seat Belt laws vary from state to state. All U.S. states require the use of seatbelts, with some exceptions for farm equipment and busses.  However, like motorcycle helmet laws, states treat the failure to use a seat belt differently.  In some states, the absence of a helmet can be used to support an affirmative defense called contributory negligence or comparative fault. In contributory or comparative fault jurisdictions, the unbelted passenger can be held responsible for injuries sustained or made worse by not wearing a seat belt. In some states, if the amount of fault apportioned to the unbelted passenger is more than 50%, recovery is barred. In other states, the injured party’s recovery is reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to him or her.

Again, depending upon state law, the insurance company lawyer must prove that the failure to use a seatbelt caused or contributed to injury or death. Seatbelts are not meant to minimize or prevent all injuries.  In fact, in some instances, seat belts can actually cause significant injuries like broken ribs, damage to internal organs, or arterial dissection.  Likewise, a seatbelt can trap a passenger inside a burning vehicle.

However, lack of seatbelt use is often used as an excuse to avoid liability when car accident victims sustain traumatic brain injury or serious neck injuries. Again, the science behind such allegations is dubious. An individual can sustain traumatic brain injury or neck injury even with a seat belt one.  Further, even if it cannot be proven that seatbelt use would have minimized the injury victim’s injuries, jurors may hold the absence of a seat belt against the plaintiff and infer contributory fault and/or reduce the amount of money awarded.

If you are a loved one who has been the victim of traffic-related fatality or serious personal injuries, involving a collision with another car or truck, you should contact a personal injury attorney, like the office of Mishkind Kulwicki Law Co., L.P.A for advice.  Time limits apply.