Wearing a seat belt when you’re driving tends to be second nature for many drivers – but what happens if you get into an accident and you didn’t have your seat belt on? The failure to wear your seat belt can not only put you at a greater risk for getting injured in the accident, but it can also negatively impact your personal injury case and any possible compensation.
History of Seat Belts
Seat belts first appeared in the car scene around the 1950s, and by 1968 the U.S. government mandated that all vehicles come standardly equipped with seat belts. Since then, each state has instituted its own laws and regulations in regards to when drivers and passengers must wear the belts.
“In Colorado, only occupants sitting in the front seat are required by law to wear their seat belts,” says Amy Gaiennie of the Gaiennie Law Office. “But our state seat belt law is only considered to be a secondary offense, which means that law enforcement cannot pull you over solely for failing to wear your seat belt.”
Seat Belt Statistics
Seat belts have proven to reduce serious injuries and prevent fatalities for both drivers and passengers in vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that the national use rate for seat belts stood at 90.7 percent in 2019, with states with stricter seat belt laws being found to have high rates of seat belt usage.
Of the 22,215 individuals killed in car accidents in 2019, the NHTSA reported that nearly half of them were not wearing their seat belt. In addition, it is estimated that seat belts, when worn properly, help to save 15,000 lives each year.
Since wearing seat belts decreases the rates of injury or death, they can also indirectly aid in reducing possible long-term expenses caused by a car accident. In 2017, non-fatal crash injuries resulted in approximately $62 million in lifetime medical bill expenses and income losses for drivers and passengers.
Determining Fault in Personal injury Claims
It’s common for individuals who have been injured in a car wreck to file a personal injury claim against the at-fault parties. Under Colorado law, these claims follow a modified comparative negligence approach.
Modified comparative negligence dictates that victims who share blame for causing the incident can recover damages for their injuries, but the total amount is reduced by the percentage that they are found to be at fault. Yet if the victim is found to be 50 percent or more at fault for causing the accident, they are unable to recover any damages.
Impact of Failing to Wear Your Seat Belt on Your Claim
While seat belts play a major role in keeping drivers and passengers safe at the moment of impact, they also play a role in the outcome of your personal injury claim. Failing to wear your seat belt could give at-fault parties the opportunity to refute liability. Defendants may use the rationale that, while wearing a seat belt could not have prevented the accident, it could have potentially lessened the victim’s injuries.
Additionally, the law requires plaintiffs to take reasonable steps to prevent injuries and minimize harm. Since Colorado requires front-seat passengers to wear seat belts, it is common for courts to argue that defendants who were not wearing seat belts failed to appropriately mitigate the damages. As a result, the defendant could see a reduction in their financial compensation for damages.
Of course, each personal injury claim is unique and some may not even find your failure to wear a seat belt relevant to the case. Here at Amy G Injury Firm, we can work with you to examine your case and determine how not wearing a seat belt may play out in your personal injury claim. But remember, it’s always a safe decision to buckle up when you’re riding in a vehicle!