Are you able to recover damages after a car accident if you were not wearing a seat belt? This is a common question, which requires proper evaluation of the facts. In most cases not wearing your seat belt will generally reduce your claim for damages. However, this depends on a very careful analysis of the facts. For example if were a passenger in a taxi cab and not wearing a seat belt, the insurance company will argue that you are at fault and attempt to deny or significantly reduce damages. A blanket denial of liability is not permitted in California. If you have been injured in a vehicle accident and were not wearing your seatbelt, read the following article and know your rights. Contributory Negligence In California California is a contributory negligence state. Contributory negligence means that if you contribute to your own negligence, the percentage amount is deducted from your overall damages claim. For example if you have damages totaling around $100,000 and you are deemed 30% at fault, then you can only recover up $70,000. Can A Jury Hear Evidence of Seat Belt Non-use? California has settled its seat belt use controversy in Housley v. Godinez, whereby the courts deemed that a jury is permitted to hear evidence regarding the use or non-use of a seat belt. According to California Vehicle Code §27315 a jury is permitted to not only know of such evidence, but are permitted to assign the degree of value to not wearing a seat belt. In cases that deal with a taxi cab or common carrier vehicle, the use or non-use of a seat belt can be established by looking at the physical injuries. For example if you suffered facial lacerations or bruising it will likely because of non-use of a seatbelt. Additionally, most taxi cab companies have on-board surveillance cameras which video tape each customers trip. So they can clearly identify whether the passenger was wearing a seatbelt. On-board dashboard surveillance cameras are an extremely useful tool in adding value to your claim. First they avoid any issue of falsity with regards to whether a seat belt was being worn and whether you were at fault. Second, they can be used as a tool to determine when the accident took place. This is important because a customer in a taxi cab may have been using his seat belt and removed it when approaching his destination. Or the taxi cab may have been involved in an accident immediately after the customer entered the cab. These are all important factors in determining or assigning a degree of liability with regards to your injuries. Seat Belt Defenses In dealing with a seat belt non-use injury there are obvious defenses which should be used in the event that your client was not wearing their seat belt. Defenses rely heavily on the facts, so it is important that your attorney be very aware of the facts of your case. Below are a list of common defenses:
- The accident occurred immediately when the customer/passenger entered into the car, not giving him time to wear his seat belt.
- Driver failed to give the passenger/customer enough time to put on his seat belt and did not make sure of this fact before continuing to the prompted destination.
- Failure to wear a seat belt was not the cause of the accident and fails to meet the but for standard, in tort cases.
- The non-use of the seat belt does not fit into the mitigation of damages defense. Mitigation of damages requires that the any party mitigate or work to reduce their injuries/damages after an accident. Not wearing a seat belt would not fit into this defense.
- Taxi cabs are common carriers and owe their occupants the highest duty of care and passengers or occupants are not required to predict the negligence of other drivers.