Can You File a Personal Injury Claim if You Weren’t Wearing a Seatbelt in a Crash?

by Staff Blogger | September 26th, 2022

Using a seatbelt helps you stay secure in your vehicle and reduces injuries. Seatbelts saved an estimated 14,995 lives in 2017, and an additional 2,549 lives could have been saved if seatbelts had been used. In California, seatbelts are not only legally required but not wearing them can incur a fine of $162 for adults.

You can still file a personal injury claim if you were not wearing your seatbelt during a crash and suffered injuries. However, the insurance company may attempt to reduce or deny your compensation because you failed to wear a seatbelt.

An experienced San Francisco car accident lawyer from Berg Injury Lawyers can advise you of your legal rights to compensation and develop a legal strategy for your defense.

What is California’s Seatbelt Law?

California’s seatbelt law states that no driver can operate a vehicle on a highway unless everyone over 16 wears seatbelts. A highway can be any place maintained by the government that is open to the public for vehicular use. This definition includes streets, meaning all drivers and passengers must wear their seatbelts while using their vehicles.

The seatbelt law requires that the seatbelt must go around the waist. If the vehicle has shoulder straps, they should be over the shoulders. It also requires vehicle owners to keep seatbelts in good working condition, including straps, webbing, buckle, latch plate, pillar loop, and retractor.

What Is the Impact of Not Wearing a Seatbelt on Your Liability?

The insurance company’s claims adjuster will investigate the details of the accident and the severity of your injuries, so they can decide whether to offer a settlement. Unfortunately, failing to wear a seatbelt may prevent you from attaining the full compensation you deserve.

You can work with a car accident attorney who can evaluate your case and offer legal options, including taking it to court. Having a skilled lawyer on your side is essential because the insurance company may use a legal theory known as the seatbelt defense to reduce the damages in your settlement.

What is the Seatbelt Defense?

The seatbelt defense, also known as the “affirmative defense” under California court instructions, is based on the presumption that you should have been wearing your seatbelt at the time of the crash. As a result, although you were not responsible for the accident, your failure to wear a seatbelt contributed to your injuries. Just like other drivers have a legal responsibility not to harm others around them, you also have a responsibility to not put yourself in harm’s way.

A jury will assess your negligence in causing your injuries by determining:

  • The availability of a working seatbelt.
  • If a reasonable person could have used the seatbelt in your situation.
  • Your failure to wear a seatbelt.
  • If your injuries could have been less severe if you had worn your seatbelt.

Protect Your Legal Right to Financial Compensation

If the insurance company is successful in their defense, the jury can determine how much you can get in damages. The state of California relies on pure comparative fault, meaning that each party is liable for their percentage of fault in the accident, which is subtracted from their potential compensation. For instance, if you were deemed 10% at fault for your injuries, you may only recover $90,000 of $100,000.

An experienced lawyer can challenge the seatbelt defense from the insurance company. They can prove that not wearing a seatbelt wouldn’t have reduced the severity of your injuries. Your lawyer can also determine whether you would have suffered any different injuries if you had worn your seatbelt, such as bruising, abrasions, intra-abdominal injuries, and vertebral fractures.

The police report and the medical diagnoses for your injuries can show the severity of your injuries and your need for compensation. Testimonies from medical and safety experts can also help your lawyer distinguish between the injuries you sustained in the crash and the injuries you might have avoided if you had worn a seatbelt. If so, this could be used to reduce your fault in the accident against another party who was responsible for causing the crash.

Rely on the Car Accident Attorneys at Berg Injury Lawyers

Although you may not have worn a seatbelt during a crash, you still have a legal right to compensation for your injuries in California. Trust Berg Injury Lawyers to advocate for your interests throughout the legal process of filing a claim. Contact our law office today for a free consultation of your case and let us help you with your personal injury claim.