From the time you were old enough to sit in a car without a car seat, you probably heard admonitions to buckle up. In addition to parents and other adults reminding you of the importance of fastening your seat belt, your driver’s education teacher probably impressed on you the value of using this safety device.
While public awareness campaigns these days focus more on the dangers of distracted driving, safety advocates have not forgotten their mission to promote this most basic act of caution: buckling your seat belt before you start your car. Colorado and numerous other states have seat belt laws that can affect the amount of damages an insurer pays following a motor vehicle accident.
What Is the Seat Belt Defense?
If you are involved in an accident that resulted from the negligence or recklessness of another driver, you would expect the other driver’s insurance to cover the medical expenses and other costs related to your injuries and property damage. In many cases, this would be true. However, if you were not wearing your seat belt at the time of the accident, the other driver’s insurer may contest the number of damages you claim. This is called the seat belt defense theory.
The seat belt defense draws from the following areas of law:
- Comparative Negligence: Many states employ comparative negligence rules which reduce an injured party’s recoverable damages proportionate to their level of responsibility for their own injuries. These rules can either be modified or pure in nature. Modified comparative negligence rules typically prohibit an injured party from recovering any damages if they are found to be 50% or more at fault for the accident that caused their injuries, while pure comparative negligence will simply deduct a certain percentage from their final award that matches their share of the blame.
- Failure to Mitigate Damages: Similarly, some states will reduce an injured party’s eligible damages they are found to have not taken reasonable precautions to limit the extent of their own injuries. While this rule usually is applied to an injured party’s actions after their accident, it is not uncommon for it to be applied to actions prior to an accident or injury such as with seat belt use in car accident cases.
With this defense, the insurer can suggest that your injuries may not have been as severe, or you may not have suffered injuries at all if you had worn your seat belt. The other driver may also employ the seat belt defense if you opt to pursue damages through a civil claim. If your opponent is successful in his or her use of the seat belt defense, the court may reduce the award you may have won in proportion to how much the seat belt may have prevented your injuries.
Your Future Depends on Your Recovery
As you can see, this defense may have some subjective elements, so if your opponent uses it, you will need a strong rebuttal. The compensation at stake may mean the difference between obtaining the medical services you need for a full recovery and being unable to pay for treatment for your injuries.
In addition to the seat belt defense, insurance companies often employ other tactics to minimize payouts for claims. When you face injuries resulting from a motor vehicle accident, your future may be at risk. Seeking help from a legal advocate who has experience dealing with insurance companies means you do not have to handle this alone.
Is an insurance company using the seat belt defense against you? Call 970-644-5599 or complete an online form to discuss your situation with a skilled attorney from The Law Office of Chadwick McGrady, P.C.