Wearing a seat belt significantly lowers the risk of severe and fatal injuries if you’re involved in an accident. Seat belts are so important that 49 states have passed mandatory seat belt laws. However, not everyone buckles up behind the wheel. It’s estimated that 27.5 million Americans do not wear a seat belt in the car.
What happens if you’re involved in a car accident, but aren’t buckled up at the time of the collision? Can you still file a personal injury claim and recover compensation? Or, does your failure to wear a seat belt bar you from getting money for your injuries? Los Angeles personal injury attorney Sherwin Arzani provides more insight below.
California’s Seat Belt Law
California’s seat belt law became effective back in 1986, when only 22 percent of California drivers wore a seat belt on a regular basis. Lawmakers explained that the purpose of the law was to “protect Californians from needless death and injury, and to reduce taxpayer costs resulting from traffic collisions.” In the decades since the law was enacted, seat belt use has increased significantly. More than 90 percent of drivers buckle up before getting behind the wheel.
Drivers aren’t the only ones affected by California’s seat belt law. Vehicle Code Section 27315(d) VC explains that “a person shall not operate a motor vehicle on a highway unless that person and all passengers 16 years of age or over are properly restrained by a safety belt.”
So, all drivers and passengers over the age of 16 must wear a seat belt whenever a vehicle is driven on a public road. Passengers under the age of 16 must use a child safety system or a seat belt.
Sharing Fault For Not Wearing a Seat Belt
Accidents are rarely straightforward. Many times, several factors contribute to a collision and resulting injuries. When you drive in Los Angeles, you have an obligation to use care and caution. You also have a duty to obey any applicable traffic and safety laws. If you aren’t careful, or if you break the law, you can be considered negligent. Negligence can affect your ability to recover compensation for accident-related injuries.
California’s seat belt law is intended to “protect Californians from needless death and injury.” When you don’t wear a seat belt, you are much more likely to suffer severe and fatal injuries in a crash. You have an obligation to do whatever you can to mitigate your injuries. Not wearing a seat belt contributes to the severity of the injuries you sustain in a collision.
California follows the legal theory of comparative fault. Under this rule, contributing to an accident will not automatically bar you from filing a successful personal injury claim. You can recover compensation as long as you are not entirely responsible for an accident and your own injuries. However, your own negligence will affect your financial award. Your ability to recover compensation will be reduced by the degree to which you are responsible for your own accident or injuries.
Example: You’re struck by another vehicle when the driver attempts to make an unsafe turn at a Los Angeles intersection. You suffer extensive injuries in the crash. If you had been wearing your seat belt, your injuries probably would have been relatively minor. However, you weren’t buckled up at the time of the collision. Rather than dealing with some scrapes and bruises, your injuries may cause a permanent disability.
Your own negligence contributed to the severity of your injuries. As a result, you will only be able to recover a percentage of your damages. Your award will be reduced by the degree to which you are responsible for your own injuries. Had you been wearing a seat belt, you would have likely been entitled to recover 100 percent of your damages.
Hire an Attorney to Maximize Your Award
Not wearing a seat belt can jeopardize your personal injury case after a car accident. However, you may still be able to recover some compensation for your injuries. Working with an experienced personal injury lawyer will help you to recover every dollar you deserve. Your attorney will know how to minimize your contributions to your injury and shift blame to others involved in the crash.