Can You Recover Damages If You Were Not Wearing A Seatbelt?

Tarun Sridharan Legal Editor & Attorney Contributor Read Time: 5 minutes

Can You Recover Damages If You Were Not Wearing A Seatbelt?

If you’ve been injured in a car accident (due to the fault of another driver), but you weren’t wearing a seatbelt, then you may be wondering if you’re legally entitled to sue and recover damages. After all, failing to wear your seatbelt could have contributed significantly to your own injuries, and could be considered negligent behavior.

Whether you’re entitled to damages — and to what degree — depends in large part on the rules of the state in which your case will be litigated. It also depends on the specific facts and circumstances of your accident.

Except for a few states, however, you should be able to sue and recover damages in many no-seatbelt cases. As these cases can be a challenge to litigate, it’s important that you work with an experienced car accident attorney who understands how to navigate the strategic roadblocks. Call 1-800-THE-LAW2 to get connected to a skilled attorney in our network today for a free legal consultation.

For now, let’s explore how fault works in accidents where both sides engaged in negligent behavior.

Comparative Fault and Contributory Fault Basics

States implement one of three fault doctrines when evaluating how to allocate fault after a car accident. So, if you were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of your accident, one of the following may apply:

Contributory Fault

Under the contributory fault doctrine, if you — the plaintiff — are even 1 percent at-fault for your own injuries, then you are prohibited from suing and recovering damages in a car accident. For example, if you failed to wear a seatbelt, and that failure contributed to your injuries, then the court would preclude you from obtaining any sort of compensation through a lawsuit.

As the contributory fault doctrine is extremely strict and anti-plaintiff, you’ll want to work closely with an attorney to ensure that you do not run afoul of the rule. There may be ways in which you can strategically develop the case (and present the facts) that show you are not responsible for your own injuries, even if you engaged in negligent activity at the time of the accident.

Pure Comparative Fault

Under the pure comparative fault doctrine, you can be 99 percent at-fault for your own injuries and still recover damages. The law would not prevent you from suing and obtaining compensation from the defendant, no matter how fault is allocated. However, it’s important to note that while you can sue and recover damages, those damages will be proportionally reduced by your contribution of fault.

How does this work?

Suppose that you are injured in a car accident in which you were not wearing a seatbelt. The court determines that you were 30 percent at-fault, due to your failure to wear a seatbelt. The total damages is roughly $100,000. You would be entitled to recover 70 percent of the total damages, or $70,000.

As such, even in pure comparative fault states, defendants have much to gain from showing that you were also at-fault — by doing so, they can reduce their damages’ liability to some degree.

Modified Comparative Fault

Under the modified comparative fault doctrine, you can sue and recover damages in a lawsuit against the defendant, but only if you were less than 50 percent at-fault. If you are 50 percent (or more) at-fault, then you will be prohibited from recovering damages entirely.

The modified comparative fault doctrine is thus a mix of pure comparative fault and contributory fault.

For example, suppose that you are injured in a car accident and were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. The court finds that you were 60 percent at-fault, as if you had been wearing your seatbelt, you would not have sustained any significant injuries. Under modified comparative fault, you would not be entitled to recover any damages through a lawsuit. If the court found that you were 40 percent at-fault, however, then you would be entitled to recover damages.

Proving that the Defendant “Caused” the Injury

Whatever the particular “doctrine” of fault that applies in your state, you can reduce how much fault the court allocates to you by showing that your negligent acts were not actually connected to the injuries — and that it was the defendant’s negligent acts that caused your injuries.

This can be a bit difficult to understand, so let’s use a brief example for clarity.

Suppose that you are injured in a car accident, and you weren’t wearing your seatbelt at the time of the collision. The defendant-driver sideswiped you, causing you to sustain multiple fracture injuries on your left side.

Now, the defendant knows that you were not wearing your seatbelt, and they are attempting to paint that you as highly negligent. They want to prove that your failure to wear a seatbelt is what led to severe injury. In truth, however, your failure to wear a seatbelt — though negligent and somewhat irresponsible — is not linked to the injuries you sustained. It is not as though you were flung forward through your window.

Here, the same sideswipe injuries would have occurred had you been wearing your seatbelt. As such, your negligence in failing to wear a seatbelt did not actually contribute to your injuries (and thus, fault cannot be allocated to you in this context).

Contact A Car Accident Attorney In Your Area For A Free Consultation

Here at 1-800-THE-LAW2, we operate a large network of experienced car accident attorneys who are standing by to provide assistance, whether or not you were wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.

Call us to get connected to a skilled accident lawyer in just 10 minutes or less. Consultation is free and confidential, so there’s no downside to contacting us to schedule an initial consultation.

We look forward to speaking with you.

Our offices are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so we can assist you no matter when your accident occurs.

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