I wasn’t wearing my seat belt – do I still have a car accident case?
Seat belts save lives. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), seat belts saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017. Additionally, the NHTSA estimates that approximately 90.7% of drivers wear their seat belt.
But what if you are in a car accident and did not wear your seat belt – do you still have a car accident case?
Yes, you do.
I will discuss four important points to consider on this issue.
First: Florida Law Requires You to Wear Your Seat Belt
Florida Statute Section 316.614 provides the requirements (and penalties) on seat belt usage. In sum, Section 316.614 requires:
- Drivers – regardless of age – must wear seat belts;
- Passengers under 18 must wear seat belts, regardless of where they are sitting;
- Passengers 18 and older that are in the front must wear a seat belt; and,
- Passengers 18 and older that are in the back don’t have to wear a seat belt.
Notably, Section 316.614(10) notes that violating the seat belt law “may be considered as evidence of comparative negligence, in any civil action.”
What exactly does this mean?
Second: Not Wearing Your Seat Belt Might Show Comparative Negligence On Your Part
What does it mean if you did not wear your seat belt in your car accident? Do you still have a case?
In Ridley v. Safety Kleen Corp., 693 So. 2d 934 (Fla. 1996), the Florida Supreme Court discussed Florida’s seat belt defense and answered these questions (the full case opinion can be found here). The Florida Supreme Court concluded that failing to wear a seat belt may be considered as evidence of comparative negligence. More specifically, if your failure to wear your seat belt contributed to your damages, the percentage of your responsibility or negligence will reduce your award.
How does this look in real life?
Third: An Example Of The Seat Belt Defense
Here’s an example to illustrate.
Let’s say you were in a car accident, but were not wearing your seat belt. As a result, the defendant is arguing that you were comparatively negligent for not wearing your seat belt and that your failure to wear your seat belt caused your injuries.
At trial, the jury will consider these issues.
Ultimately, the jury decides that your total damages are $100,000. However, the jury also decides that 50% of your damages are the result of your failure to wear your seat belt. Under this example, the judge would reduce your damages by 50%, or to $50,000. So your total award would be $50,000.
Fourth: If You Were Wearing Your Seat Belt, Let The Officer Know
If you were wearing your seat belt, let the officer know.
In Florida traffic crash reports there is a section called, “Restraint System,” in which the investigating officer will note whether or not you were wearing your seat belt. If you were wearing your seat belt, it will likely state, “shoulder and lap belt used.” It looks like this:
If you were wearing your seat belt, make sure the officer knows.
Call Barthelette Law, Your Boca Raton Personal Injury Attorney
At Barthelette Law, we have many years of experience handling car accidents, and our website and blog will answer all of your key questions (see: https://barthelettelaw.com/personal-injury/car-accident-attorney/).
If you were in a car accident and not wearing your seat belt, don’t hesitate to call. We are here to answer all of your questions.
 The full statute can be found here: http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0300-0399/0316/Sections/0316.614.html