Seat belts became a standard safety requirement and federal law in all vehicles in 1968. This feature is imperative for the safety of both the driver and passenger, such that not wearing a seatbelt is considered a legal offense. In California, seat belt laws apply to passengers and drivers. Both parties are required to buckle up whenever the vehicle is set in motion.
According to statistics from The National Highway Safety, in 2017, there were 37, 133 motor vehicle crashes in California. Of these, 47% were not wearing a seatbelt. In addition, 618 people lost their lives because they failed to click in their seatbelts. The reality is car accidents occur every day in California. Many of them result in very serious injuries; much of these could’ve been prevented if the driver and or passenger were wearing a seatbelt.
If you’ve been involved in an accident, you’re probably wondering, “Am I able to file a lawsuit after my car accident if Ï was not wearing a seatbelt? In the state of California, it is legally required to wear a seatbelt. This is prescribed so that your risk of incurring serious injuries in a car crash are minimized. But does that mean you’re responsible for these injuries if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt? The answer is no! The party who caused the accident is also held responsible. The legal dilemma is how much are both parties responsible for the harm you are suffering? The attorneys at Quirk Reed LLP can help you answer this question.
When you violate California seatbelt laws by not wearing a seatbelt and you’re involved in a motor vehicle accident, you may be entitled to receive compensation for your grievances from the responsible party.
California Seatbelt Laws
Without a doubt, seatbelts are lifesavers. For this simple fact alone, every driver and passenger traveling in a vehicle in California is required to wear a seatbelt. This requirement is applicable to passengers seated in the back as well.
Motor Vehicle code § 27315 addresses California’s seatbelt laws. These are strictly enforced.
What are the seatbelt laws?
Under this law, no one is allowed to operate a car or vehicle on any California roads unless the driver and all passengers aged 16 and above are wearing a seatbelt. This law is applicable to all passengers, whether they’re riding in the front or back seat.
The seatbelt must at least be a lap belt that pulls across the upper thighs and hips. If the seatbelt has an upper portion, then it must be worn across the chest. It is the responsibility of the car owner to ensure that all the seatbelts are in working order. These laws are applicable to owners and operators of taxis as well.
What are the penalties for failing to wear a seatbelt in California?
In the event that you’re pulled over by a police officer and you’re not wearing a seatbelt you will be expected to pay a fine. These are:
– $20 for the first offense
– $50 for subsequent offenses
Please note, that these are the basic fines. The actual fine is usually higher than this.
If you’re involved in a car accident and even if you are not the faulty party, you will not be entitled to receive the entire compensation amount because you were not wearing a seatbelt.
After the Injury
A car accident, whether big or small can result in losses. There may be damages to your vehicle, to yourself, or even both. The bigger the accident, the more difficult it is to move on. In fact, if you have suffered any injuries for not wearing a seatbelt, some of your first thoughts may be to sue the responsible party. As a matter of fact, they are at fault, so seeking compensation may not be very hard, right?” In a few instances, it is very easy to file a lawsuit and seek compensation. However, there are several factors that may impede a favorable outcome.
The leading grey area in all vehicle accident claims is whether seatbelts were used or not? If you were recently injured in a motor vehicle collision and you were not wearing a seatbelt, are you entitled to sue? Is the other party entirely responsible? In the state of California, there are laws that are applicable to such cases.
How Seatbelts affect Liability?
Apart from New Hampshire, every other state including California requires adults to wear seatbelts while the vehicle is in motion. As a result, this will impact how a car accident claim is handled.
In a motor vehicle accident, the person who caused the crash is regarded as the negligent party. But when the accident happens with a driver who has broken a safety regulation, that driver will be held negligent per se. This means the law might not prevent the injury it was intended to.
In California, there is a condition termed “the seat belt defense”. This may work against your ability to sue the negligent person. If it was deemed that you were not wearing a seat belt when the accident occurred, then this defense will be favorable for the person who was initiated the accident. This is because the jury may hold you partially at fault. This doesn’t mean you cannot sue the neglectful party. However, you not wearing a seat belt will make it harder to obtain the full compensation amount that you’re entitled to. When you do file your claim, be aware that in California, you may obtain compensation for your injuries if you were wearing a seatbelt. The injuries you incurred because you were not wearing a seat belt will not be considered.
How does a Seatbelt Violation affect your Personal Injury Claim?
When you’re involved in a motor vehicle accident, and you’re not wearing a seatbelt, the law enforcement personnel at the scene may give you a ticket for this infraction. But do remember that this ticket will not prevent you from submitting a personal injury claim.
Even though California is a comparative fault government, it has specified that not wearing a seatbelt will not prevent you from filing or seeking a personal injury claim for accident expenses. For the resolution of civil responsibility of liability, the courts will address your violation by examining the injuries which could’ve been evaded had a seatbelt been worn. Please note, these injuries may be excluded from your recovery claim. However, you may pursue all other injuries. The insurance company representing the at-fault party will argue that all the injuries you experienced arose from you not wearing a seatbelt. If the insurance company is successful, they would be able to significantly reduce the compensation amount they’re obligated to pay out for your injuries. This is why you need the experienced team at Quirk Reed LLP to fight your case.
In the event, your case heads to trial, members of the jury will be instructed to evaluate how your failure to plug-in a seatbelt affected your injuries. If a neglectful driver is trying to avoid paying for accident-related expenses by implementing the seatbelt defense then he or she will have to establish two important elements:
1) Ordinary or normal care involved using the accessible seatbelt
2) How wearing a seatbelt would have minimized or prevented your injuries?
In a trial situation, expert testimonial from medical and biomechanical experts will be sought. Your lawyer will have to find experts who can testify on your behalf by establishing that your damages are either unconnected or minimally related to you not wearing a seat belt.
Fighting the Seatbelt Defense
If you forgot to wear a seatbelt while driving your vehicle in California, it is a grave offense. How big of an offense is it? The seat belt defense theory is able to decrease your recoverable compensation even if the other party is entirely at fault for the crash.
Imagine the following scene:
A car driver exceeds his or her speed limit. This causes the driver to plow into another car up ahead. The accident causes severe damages to the driver of the other car. This is followed by the injured party filing for a personal injury claim against the driver who exceeded the speed limit. During an accident reconstruction, an expert determines that the injured person was not wearing a seatbelt during the time of the accident. This will result in a reduction of the injured party’s compensation by a percentage of his or her own fault. The fault is failing to wear a seatbelt at the time of the accident.
If you’re ever in a situation like this, you will wonder, “What just happened here?”
What is Seatbelt Defence?
This defense argues that the complainant was presumed to wear a seatbelt. Wearing one would’ve reduced the gravity and extent of his or her damages. In this case, the defendant may use the seatbelt defense to decrease the compensable damages by the sum that could’ve been evaded if the plaintiff had worn his or her seatbelt at the time of the accident.
Since the state of California relies on comparative negligence to determine accountability and assign responsibility in car accidents, this defense isn’t a rare occurrence in personal injury claims. Under the state’s legal policy of pure comparative negligence, every defendant is accountable for his or her percentage of liability.
The Importance of the Seatbelt Defence
In California, if you’re not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, it’s considered a failure to lessen the damages. It basically means you failed to implement reasonable action to minimize the gravity and severity of your injuries. For this reason, your compensation award will be significantly reduced unless you hire an experienced attorney who can demonstrate that not wearing a seatbelt in your specific situation wouldn’t have reduced the harshness of your injuries.
There are a few types of motor vehicle accidents in which seatbelts don’t help. This is why it’s important you rely on an experienced lawyer to handle your case. He or she can help determine if wearing or not wearing a seatbelt would’ve made a difference.
In addition, defendants also have a tendency to exaggerate the importance of this defense. They assume that it will assist them to avoid liability. However, this is a false belief. Are you concerned that you won’t be able to obtain compensation for your grievances because you weren’t wearing a seatbelt when the accident happened?
Defending Your Right to Obtaining Compensation
California is the leading state when it comes to wearing a seatbelt. In fact, more than 97% of passengers and drivers buckle up and protect themselves before they hit this state’s busy highways and roads. Although it is a smart practice to restrain yourself properly before you start driving, that doesn’t mean you should be held responsible for all the expenses in an accident just because you were not wearing a seatbelt just this one time!
If you think you’re partially responsible for the crash or for your grievances as a result of not wearing your seatbelt, then your settlement may be condensed by the assigned fault percentage. For instance, if you think you’re 20% at fault for the injury and you’re eligible for a $100,000 settlement, then you will get up to 80% or $80,000 of the settlement total.
Know that if you were in a car accident in California, you have two years from the date of the accident to file for a personal injury claim. The only way to ensure that you get a reasonable settlement and protect your rights is by hiring an experienced attorney to advocate on your behalf.
A car accident is a terrifying experience. An injury resulting from the collision can compound the stress and anxiety you experience. If you’re involved in a car accident but you were not wearing a seatbelt, you’re still entitled to seek compensation. Even though the state of California relies on comparative negligence to determine the percentage of fault, you are still eligible to receive monetary reimbursement for your injuries. The experienced legal team at Quirk Reed LLP can help you obtain what you deserve. Give us a call today for a free consultation.