What happens if you were not wearing your seatbelt at the time of the crash? Even if it was clearly not your fault, are you still allowed to recover the full amount of damages?
The answer is that it depends upon the state. States vary widely on this issue, from the “seatbelt defense,” which allows Plaintiffs to recover the amount of money they would be able to recover if they were wearing their seatbelt, to the other end of the spectrum, where there is no reduction at all. Steve Harrelson of the Harrelson Law Firm, provides an overview of this issue for the states in which he actively practices: Louisiana, Texas, and Arkansas.
Damages for injured parties not wearing their seatbelt in Louisiana
Louisiana does require both the driver and all passengers to use seatbelts, and those who fail to do so can be fined. However, for anyone asserting a claim for injuries, medical expenses, or other damages arising out of a motor vehicle accident, the fact that the injured person may not have been using a seatbelt is usually not admissible in evidence in a civil suit in Louisiana. Louisiana actually has a statute directly on point, and Louisiana Revised Statute 32:295.1E provides as follows:
“In any action to recover damages arising out of the ownership, common maintenance, or operation of a motor vehicle, failure to wear a seatbelt in violation of this Section shall not be considered evidence of comparative negligence. Failure to wear a seatbelt in violation of this Section shall not be admitted to mitigate damages.”
All drivers and their passengers should wear seatbelts at any time they are in a vehicle. However, if you are injured in an accident in Louisiana and you were not using your seatbelt when the accident happened, your claim against the at-fault (negligent) driver and his or her insurance company will not be reduced in value
Damages for injured parties not wearing their seatbelt in Texas
Evidence that you were not wearing a seatbelt in Texas is admissible in court as an issue to reduce the value of the case by the issue of comparative fault. This means that the jury can assess a percentage of fault to the Plaintiff if they believe that the Plaintiff’s lack of a seatbelt contributed to his or her own injuries. Texas follows the 51% bar rule, which means that if the jury finds that the Plaintiff is 51% at fault for his or her own injuries, the Plaintiff takes nothing, even if he or she incurred $1 Million in medical bills as a result of the accident.
Damages for injured parties not wearing their seatbelt in Arkansas
Likewise in Arkansas, evidence of not wearing a seatbelt can be a factor utilized by the jury to assess the percentage of fault for the injured party contributing to their own injuries.
For these reasons, it is imperative to hire a veteran litigator and experienced Texarkana car accident attorney who has been involved in presenting car crash cases to juries for years.
Thanks to Steve Harrelson from the Harrelson Law Firm, P.A. for his added insight into the connection of not wearing a seatbelt and the value of personal injury claims.