Even if you were not wearing a seat belt during a Fort Lauderdale 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 were not wearing your seatbelt. In Florida, this strategy is called the “Seat Belt Defense.”
Fortunately, 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 all drivers and their front-seat passengers to use safety restraints (seat belts) while on the road (Florida Statue § 316.614). People under 18 years of age must wear these restraints whether they are in a front or rear seat. If you violated this law, you could be charged for the infraction, and the amount you could recover for your injuries will likely be affected.
That being said, 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. After all, the lack of a seat belt didn’t cause the accident, the driver’s choices did. 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?
Florida follows a pure comparative negligence law (Florida Statute § 768.81) regarding liability in car accidents. Pure comparative negligence holds that you can recover compensation even if you contribute to the accident.
Please take a look at this example to understand how comparative negligence (sometimes called comparative fault) works. If another driver violated the posted speed limit, drove recklessly, and collided with your car, that driver’s negligence makes them liable for your injuries. If you were found to be looking at your phone when the crash occurred, you could be assigned a level of fault for the accident.
Each party in the accident will be assigned a percentage of fault. That percentage then reduces their portion of the damages for the crash. In essence, you receive compensation for the part of the crash for which you were not responsible.
How Seat Belts Enter the Equation
Florida’s seat belt law states that not wearing a seat belt is not negligence per se; however, it can be used as evidence of comparative negligence. 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. The driver had no control over your seat belt choice, so they are not responsible for paying for how that contributed to your injuries.
For example, if the insurance company and your lawyer—or a jury—determine that you were 15% responsible for your own injuries due to your choice not to wear a seat belt, your compensation for your injuries and losses will be reduced by 15%, and you will be able to receive 85% of the recovery amount. This reduction in liability is known as Florida’s “Seat Belt Defense.”
To translate that into money, if your insurance claim totals $100,000 for your medical care and lost wages, your 15 percent contributory liability under the seat belt defense means you can only collect 85 percent of the total award, or $85,000.
Recovering Compensation If You Were Not Wearing a Seat Belt
These hypotheticals illustrate how this could proceed. However, insurance companies and liable parties may try to overemphasize how a lack of a seat belt impacted your injuries, all hoping to pay less. Their goal is not accuracy but to reduce their own losses. If that means placing more weight on the seat belt’s role in your injuries, they will attempt it.
This is where a Fort Lauderdale car accident lawyer can provide crucial support, mounting a defense for your right to receive appropriate damages. Even if you weren’t wearing a seat belt when another driver hit you, you can call on the Law Offices of Anidjar & Levine if you experience:
- Debates over each party’s level of comparative negligence
- Attempts by the other party to avoid paying you the right amount for your injuries
- Confusion regarding your rights and responsibilities after a crash
- Questions about the accurate value of your case
Never let comparative negligence laws dissuade you from filing a claim. You still have the right to compensation for your injuries. Just because you failed to wear a seat belt doesn’t mean the other driver should be let off for their own negligent actions.
Recoverable Compensation in a Florida Car Accident
The compensation you recover will depend on the specifics of your accident, as our attorneys determine the value of your case based on your unique losses. However, your damages may include compensation for:
- Medical bills
- Prescription costs
- Medical equipment
- Rehabilitation expenses
- Lost wages
- Lost earning capacity
- Miscellaneous expenses
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
- Diminished enjoyment of life
These are a mix of reimbursement for past expenses, compensation for future costs, and damages for the impact on your quality of life. In other words, it’s a comprehensive approach based on our evaluation of how the accident affected all corners of your life.
Financial Recovery After a Wrongful Death
If your loved one lost their life in an accident in which they were not wearing a seat belt, we may be able to recover compensation for you and your family. That includes:
- Funeral services and burial costs
- Medical bills for your loved one’s final care
- Lost income the deceased would have made
- Pain and suffering compensation
These and other damages can be gained through a wrongful death claim. Just keep in mind that the statute of limitations for a wrongful death suit is generally shorter than for personal injury—two years compared to four (Florida Statute § 95.11). Don’t wait to learn your options after your loss.
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 legally claim that the driver was responsible for insisting you buckle up before taking to the roadways. Injury Epidemiology found that a rear-seated passenger was more than three times more likely to wear a seat belt when the driver was wearing one.
As a result, 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 is because they failed to advise you to buckle up.
This scenario presents a complex legal case that, without the help of a Fort Myers car accident lawyer, may challenge your ability to collect a settlement. Rather than wading into these waters alone, let our seat belt accident attorneys delve into the nuances for you.
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, even though 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.
What You Can Expect from the Law Offices of Anidjar & Levine
In addition to the specific work we can do for a case involving the seat belt defense, we promise to provide:
- Accessibility: You have your attorney’s direct phone number
- Support: We help you schedule appointments and repairs
- Clarity: Legal terms, case strategies, and settlements are explained
- Responsiveness: We give you regular updates on your case
In Florida, the Law Firm of Anidjar & Levine can help you pursue the financial settlement you deserve for your injuries. Contact us today to talk to a car accident lawyer at no cost to you.
Contact a Florida Car Accident Attorney About Your Seat Belt Case
If you believe that a lawyer cannot recover damages if you were not wearing a seat belt in a car accident in Florida, you may be wrong. Per Florida law, you are allowed to receive compensation for your injuries and losses even if you were not wearing a seat belt—as long as another party caused or contributed to the accident.
Contact the car accident attorneys at the Law Offices of Anidjar & Levine to help you understand how you can receive compensation after your car accident.
We Can Help.