Seatbelts save lives. Statistics show that bucking up in the front seat of a passenger car can reduce your risk of fatal injury by 45 percent and moderate to critical injury by 50 percent. Not only is it smart to wear your seatbelt, it is the law in Florida. Yet, regardless of how persuasive the statistics or the laws may be, nearly 27.5 million Americans still refuse to buckle up. Aside from the obvious safety concerns involved with such a decision, there are also legal repercussions for not doing so—beyond just a ticket. If you are injured in an auto accident caused by another driver, failure to wear your seatbelt could shift the blame for your injuries to you. This means that the compensation for your injuries could be radically reduced in a personal injury case.
To understand how not wearing a seatbelt can affect your personal injury claim, you must understand how tort law works. The rules of tort law are designed to place the burden on the plaintiff, or the person bringing a claim, to prove several different things before they can recover compensation from a car accident. These include the following:
- Negligence on the part of the defendant: this means that the defendant failed to act with due care that any reasonable driver would have acted with.
- Causation: this means proving that the other driver’s negligence was the direct or proximate cause of the injuries and that the injures would not have occurred but for the negligence of the other driver.
- Damages: this is the actual harm you suffered such as injuries, emotional distress or lost wages.
Where the failure to wear a seatbelt in an auto accident comes into play is under the element of causation. Failure to wear a seatbelt establishes a defense that allows the defendant to attack causation. The defendant does this by asserting that the injuries were caused not by his or her negligence, but by the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt. This is what is known in Florida courts as the “seatbelt defense”. This defense is derived from the 1996 Florida Supreme Court ruling in Ridley v. Safety Kleen Corporation, and is as relevant now as it was then.
Once this defense is raised, your claim for personal injuries becomes a numbers game. Because you are now considered negligent for not wearing a seatbelt, the damages you suffered as a result of the accident will now be apportioned by the amount your negligence contributed to these injuries. This is what is known as comparative negligence. Florida law follows the doctrine of pure comparative negligence which means if you contribute to the injuries in an accident, then the amount you would otherwise recover in compensation may be reduced by the proportion of your fault. For example, if you are deemed 20 percent responsible for the accident injuries, then your maximum recovery will be 80 percent of the total damages. In terms of dollars, if your total loss amounted to $100,000.00, you would receive only $80,000.00. This shows that the seemingly simple task of buckling your seatbelt could be worth several thousand dollars.
Now, just because you failed to wear a seatbelt does not mean your claim for personal injuries is any less valid. The defense still has to prove the failure to do so was the reason for your injuries. To do this, they will usually look for evidence of the failure to wear a seatbelt, such as red marks on your body from where the seatbelt should have been. Also, the type of injuries you have such as injuries indicating your body moved freely during the crash due to not being restrained by the seatbelt. The defense will also hire experts to testify about how the failure to wear a seatbelt could cause your specific injuries. This is where your attempt to settle a claim without legal representation may become overwhelming. The failure to wear your seatbelt may not be the cause of all of your injuries, but the defense or insurance company will certainly try to make it out this way to avoid paying you any money.
If you find yourself in this situation, it may be best to contact a law firm experienced with insurance companies and the trial proceedings involving the seatbelt defense. To schedule a free consultation and case evaluation with an accident attorney, please contact us today.
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Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, Florida 33765