Why Failing to Wear a Seatbelt May Hurt Your Personal Injury Case

Wear your seatbelt, every time you get in a vehicle, whether you’re a driver or a passenger.

According to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration, the national usage rate for seatbelts in 2019 was 90.7%; this number has risen steadily over the past few years. In 2017, 47% of people killed in motor vehicle crashes nationwide were not wearing a seatbelt. NHTSA has stated the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in the event of a crash is wear your seatbelt. If you’re a parent, make sure your child wears a seatbelt for every single ride.

Not only are you creating unnecessary risk for yourself if you don’t wear a seatbelt, you may end up taking money out of your own pocket in the event you’re injured in a crash, based on a bill currently under consideration in Georgia’s legislature.

O.C.G.A. 40-8-76.1 requires drivers and front seat passengers to wear seatbelts on public roadways in Georgia. The law states that failure to wear a seatbelt cannot be used against someone in a personal injury action.

However, a proposed new law would require back seat passengers to buckle up as well. Importantly, if the new law is enacted, it would also allow defendants to argue that failure to use a seatbelt is evidence of (1) failure to mitigate damages, (2) assumption of risk, (3) apportionment of fault, (4) negligence, (5) comparative negligence, or (6) causation. Without getting into too many specifics about each of these legal concepts, we can tell you that any of these arguments, if successful, could severely reduce the value of your case, or maybe even make it so you don’t recover anything at trial for your injuries.

The quick explanation is that insurance companies will argue it’s your own fault you got hurt if you get into a crash when you aren’t wearing your seatbelt. While that might sound crazy to some people, juries can sometimes do crazy things, and there’s no guarantee they would not hold your failure to wear a seatbelt against you in your personal injury case. Not only could the defense argue you wouldn’t have gotten hurt, they could argue you wouldn’t have gotten hurt as badly if you’d just been wearing your seatbelt.

It’s worthwhile for you to know what apportionment and comparative negligence mean. Juries don’t have to decide if one party is totally at fault for your injuries. They can assign as much or as little blame to whomever they want. For example, they could decide you and a driver you’re suing are both at fault for your injuries, and they could “apportion” 80% of fault to the other driver and 20% of fault to you. If that happens and the jury decides your injuries are worth $1 million, you won’t be able to recover 20% of that – that’s $200,000 in this example! It could get even worse if you don’t wear your seatbelt. If a defendant convinces the jury you’re at least 50% to blame for your injuries, you won’t recover anything at all.

As the law stands at the moment this post is being written, your failure to use a seatbelt can’t be used against you in a personal injury trial. However, insurance companies and insurance defense attorneys are pushing to change the law so they can blame you, even if a crash is clearly caused by someone else.

Remember: a seatbelt can save your life or prevent you from being injured. This new law would create just one more great reason to make sure you and your friends and family buckle up for every single ride.

Call Rafi Law Firm at 404-800-9933 or click here to speak with us if you or a loved one has been injured in a crash, to see how we could help.

By: Christopher Jackson, Attorney

2020-03-13T07:13:06-04:00