Even if you were not wearing a seat belt at the time of a car accident, you should still have the right to recover a settlement from the at-fault driver (or their insurance company) for your injuries.
However, under Florida’s pure comparative negligence statutes, the at-fault driver’s insurance company may attempt to demonstrate that you suffered more severe injuries because you did not wear your seatbelt. In Florida, this strategy is called the “Seat Belt Defense.”
However, even if the insurance company succeeds with the seat belt defense, they will only succeed in reducing your settlement by the percentage you contributed to your injuries.
Can I Still Get a Settlement if I Was Not Wearing My Seat Belt in a Car Accident?
Like most states, Florida requires that all drivers and their front-seat passengers use safety restraints (seat belts) while on the road. People under 18 years of age must wear these restraints whether they are in a front or rear seat.
As long as another driver had liability for the crash, you have the legal right to pursue and collect damages for your injuries – even if you did not have your seat belt on at the time of the accident.
A negligent driver who causes an injury accident is liable under the Florida statutes for your injuries.
However, because Florida uses the pure comparative negligence doctrine for assigning liability, your failure to wear a seatbelt may reduce the percentage you can collect in a settlement.
How Does Florida’s Comparative Negligence Statutes Work if You Were Not Wearing a Seat Belt in a Car Accident?
To understand how comparative negligence (sometimes called comparative fault) works, consider this example.
If another driver violated the posted speed limit or drove recklessly, and subsequently collided with your car, that driver’s negligence makes them liable for your injuries.
If you were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, you potentially sustained more severe injuries than you otherwise would have. For example, if the insurance company and your lawyer – or, alternatively, a jury – determine that your failure to wear your seatbelt made your injuries 15 percent worse than they would have been, you legally assume 15 percent of the blame for your injuries. This reduction in liability is known as Florida’s “Seat Belt Defense.”
If your insurance claim totals $100,000 for your medical care and lost wages, your 15 percent contributory liability under the seatbelt defense means you can only collect 85 percent of the total award. The at-fault driver owes you, would be $85,000.
What if You Were a Passenger in a Car Accident While Not Wearing a Seat Belt?
The scenario changes somewhat if you sustained injuries as a passenger in someone else’s car while not wearing your seatbelt.
In this case, your lawyer can make the legal claim that the driver had a responsibility for insisting you buckle up before taking to the roadways. So, if the at-fault driver must pay for 85 percent of your injuries, the driver of the car in which you rode may have liability for the additional 15 percent of the value reduced by the at-fault party’s seatbelt defense.
This scenario presents a complex legal case that, without the help of a Florida car accident lawyer, may challenge your ability to collect a settlement.
Can a Lawyer Help Me Get a Settlement if I Wasn’t Wearing a Seat Belt in a Car Accident?
If you sustained injuries in a crash when you were not wearing a seat belt, you need a car accident lawyer to help protect your legal rights. You have an even greater need for legal representation if the at-fault driver’s attorney attempts to use the seat belt defense to reduce your settlement.
The Law Firm of Anidjar & Levine has several strategies it can use to counter this defense:
- The seat belt was not effective to protect you from injury. This strategy may prove especially effective if you are diminutive in stature (short) or somewhat heavier than the average adult.
- The seat belt did not contribute to the cause of the accident, or it is impossible to speculate the degree to which wearing your seat belt may have lessened the injuries you sustained.
The lawyers for the at-fault party’s insurance company may negotiate in good faith for your settlement, despite the fact that you were not wearing your seatbelt. However, if the insurance company attempts to deny your claim because you were not wearing a seat belt at the time of your car accident, your lawyer may recommend taking your case to court.
In Florida, the Law Firm of Anidjar & Levine can help you pursue the financial settlement you deserve for your injuries. Contact us today at 800-747-3733 to talk to a car accident lawyer for no cost to you.