Can I recover damages if I was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident?

Your Rights to Compensation After a Wreck When Not Wearing a Seat Belt

California's seat belt law requires both drivers and passengers to buckle up when a vehicle is in motion.  Even if you violate this law, and you are involved in an auto accident while not wearing a seat belt, you still may be entitled to compensation for some of your injuries from the at-fault party.

California's Seat Belt Law

Under California law, the only people who do not have to wear seat belts are those with medical disabilities that prevent seat belt use or people engaging in occupations that make frequent stops, such as USPS, newspaper delivery persons, or waste collection personnel. Children who are too small to use a standard vehicle seat belt must be restrained in an appropriate car seat or booster seat. Also, if you occupy a vehicle that does not have a seatbelt provided, such as some public transportation, you are not required to wear a seatbelt.

If you violate California's seat belt law, you can be ticketed for this violation.  Some tickets can be for a minimum fine of $162 for an adult violation, or $465 for a child under the age of 16.  Penalties are assessed against the parents of the minor, or the driver if the parents are not in the car.  

How a Seat Belt Violation Affects Your Personal Injury Claim

If you are involved in an accident and were not wearing your seatbelt at the time, you may receive a ticket from the law enforcement officer at the scene for failing to buckle up. However, the ticket does not prevent you from filing a personal injury claim.

California is a comparative fault state but has specifically stated that failing to wear a seat belt does not bar you from seeking a claim for accident-related expenses.  The way the courts address this violation for purposes of civil responsibility of liability is that the Courts will look to see what injuries could have been avoided if a seatbelt was worn and those injuries can be excluded for recovery.  All other injuries are available to pursue.  The insurance company for the at-fault driver will try to argue that nearly all the injuries are related to your lack of seat belt use.  If they are successful, then they reduce the amount they are obligated to pay for the injuries.

If your case goes to trial, the jury is instructed to consider how the failure to wear a seat belt affected the injuries. If a negligent driver tries to avoid paying accident-related expenses by using a seat belt defense, he will need to establish two key elements:

  • Normal or ordinary care would involve using the available seat belt
  • Wearing a seat belt would have prevented the injuries or made them less serious

In this scenario, expert testimony from biomechanical and medical experts will become crucial. Your own attorney will need to locate experts who can provide testimony on your behalf to establish that your injuries are unrelated or only minimally related to your lack of seat belt use.

Protecting Your Right to Compensation

California has widely been considered a leader in seat belt use, with over 97 percent of drivers and passengers buckling up to protect themselves on the state's busy roads and highways. While it is always smart to be properly restrained before you start out on the road, there's no reason you should bear the brunt of all accident-related expenses due to one simple mistake.

If you are determined to be partially responsible for the accident or for your injuries from not wearing your seatbelt, your settlement will be reduced by your assigned percentage of fault. For example, if you were determined to be 20 percent at fault for the accident and would otherwise be eligible for a $100,000 settlement, you would receive $80,000 or 80 percent of the original settlement total.

After a California car accident, you have up to two years to file a personal injury claim.  The best way to protect your right to a fair settlement is to have an experienced attorney advocating for your interests throughout the process.

Inland Empire Law Group's legal team is committed to assisting California residents to obtain the personal injury compensation they need to move forward with their lives following a car accident. Call us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation. Appointments are available at either our Rancho Cucamonga or Victorville offices.