I Wasn't Wearing a Seatbelt, Can I Still Make a Car Accident Injury Claim?

In the state of Florida, it's been illegal to ride in the front seat of a moving vehicle without a fastened seatbelt since 1987. In 2009, however, not using your seatbelt became a primary offense, meaning that the police could use an unfastened seatbelt as a reason to stop you and issue you a citation. But if you've been injured in an accident and weren't wearing your seatbelt, you may have some additional concerns.

The attorneys and adjusters who represent insurance companies will look for any reason to dismiss or reduce claims. This is known as mitigation. They will often argue that a plaintiff who wasn't wearing their seatbelt at the time of the collision is partially responsible for the extent of their injuries. Statistically, seatbelts help reduce or minimize injuries. Not wearing a seatbelt, however, doesn't mean that you don't have a solid claim. You may just be facing a reduced amount for compensation.

If you've been injured in a car accident in Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach, regardless of whether or not you were wearing your seatbelt, call Weinstein Legal for a free consultation today. Our Florida personal injury lawyers have an established record of success. We will review your case and aggressively pursue damages on your behalf.

What is the “Seatbelt Defense?”

The seatbelt defense is a strategy used by civil defense lawyers to minimize the amount of damages that they have to pay out to accident victims. By law, you are supposed to be wearing your seatbelt whether you are the driver or passenger in a car. If you are involved in an accident, your seatbelt can prevent or minimize injuries. An accident defense attorney will argue that while the accident may not have been entirely your fault, the fact that you weren't wearing a seatbelt at the time of impact was. Therefore, since you didn't do everything within your power to avoid the damages, your compensation should be discounted. While the term “seatbelt defense” is reserved strictly for car and truck accident cases, comparative fault or comparative negligence is a principle used throughout personal injury law.

What is Comparative Negligence?

Florida is one of the states that follow the comparative fault principle. Under this principle, the defendant's liability is limited to their proportion of negligence. For example, if Car 1 rear-ends Car 2, which was waiting for a stoplight, the driver of Car 1 may be 100% at fault. The comparative negligence for Driver 2 in this case is 0. On the other hand, if Car 1 runs a red light, and is t-boned by Car 2, which had a green light, but was speeding, the courts may assign a portion of the blame to Driver 2, who made the damages worse by speeding.

Mitigation Explained

In comparative negligence cases, compensation is reduced by the degree of fault. For instance, if the plaintiff is determined to be 20% at fault, they will only receive 80% of the amount of damages. This reduction in damage amounts is also known as “mitigation” in legal circles. In an accident involving a plaintiff who wasn't wearing their seatbelt, their damages will be mitigated by the percentage that this perceived oversight contributed to the damage amounts.

Seatbelt vs. Non-Seatbelt Accident Statistics

The U.S. Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has been collecting accident statistics for decades. Among the datasets that they track are seatbelt vs. non-seatbelt accident numbers. For instance, in 2019, 47% of the 22,215 individuals killed in accidents were not wearing their seatbelts. The percentages were slightly lower in Florida. During one three-year period, the average percentage of individuals who died in car accidents without wearing seatbelts was 44.19%  These are staggeringly high percentages when one considers that 90.1% of Americans wear their seatbelts while driving.

Damages for Accident Victims Who Weren't Wearing Their Seat Belts

The amount of compensation you receive for any car accident claim varies directly with your damages. Personal injury law divides damages into two general categories: economic damages and non-economic damages, with a third category, punitive damages, being assigned in cases where the defendant's actions were egregious.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are the monetary damages to which an attorney can easily assign a price tag. These can be extensive, which is why you should have a personal injury lawyer tabulate and itemize your economic damages for you. Economic damages include doctor bills, physical therapy, medication, medical tests, psychological counseling, lost wages, vehicle damages, and much more.

Non-Economic Damages

Accidents can be traumatic and physically painful experiences. Merely receiving reimbursement for your expenses falls short of fully compensating you for your injuries. Personal injury attorneys, like Justin Weinstein and his legal team, use comparable damage payouts from similar injury cases to determine non-economic damages for their clients.

Punitive Damages

Florida does allow punitive damages in civil cases. However, the court will usually require aggravating circumstances before they will attach them to a claim.

Once your total damages are calculated, your attorney will approach the responsible insurer with a settlement request. If you weren't wearing a seatbelt, the defense lawyers may attempt to mitigate the damages by a percentage.

Frequently Asked Questions About Car Accident With No Seatbelt

These questions are some of the most frequently asked by clients who have been involved in no-seat-belt accidents. If you've been injured in an accident, contact a car accident attorney in your area. In Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach, contact Weinstein Legal for a free consultation.

How will the insurance company know if I wasn't wearing a seatbelt?

There are several ways that the insurance company can find out if you were wearing your seatbelt, but the most common one is the police report. Florida crash reports have a box to indicate whether or not you were wearing your seatbelt. If you told the officer you weren't or they were able to determine that you weren't wearing your seatbelt based on evidence from the crash, they will indicate it on the report.

How much can I lose from my settlement by not wearing my seatbelt?

This largely depends on the extent and nature of your injuries. Not all injury types can be prevented or reduced by not wearing your seatbelt. Seatbelt defense mitigation is generally a percentage amount, so the larger the damage amounts, the more you can lose.

How can I afford an attorney for my no-seat-belt car accident?

The personal injury attorneys who represent plaintiffs in the state of Florida work on a contingency basis. That means that they only receive payment if your case is settled or successfully litigated through the courts. That means you shouldn't have to pay out of pocket for professional legal advice.

Will an attorney represent me if I was in a car accident without a seatbelt?

Even if you were not wearing your seatbelt at the time of your car accident, you are still entitled to compensation for your injuries. Personal injury attorneys offer free case evaluations to potential clients. If you're concerned about the viability of your case, schedule an appointment to talk to a personal injury lawyer in your area. If you were injured in Florida, call Weinstein Legal for a free consultation.

Personal Injury Lawyers in Florida

For years, the professional personal injury lawyers at the Weinstein Legal Team have been helping the residents of Broward and Palm Beach counties achieve full compensation for their car accident injuries. If you've been involved in a car accident, even if you weren't wearing a seatbelt, call us for a free consultation. Our accident lawyers work on a contingency basis, so you don't pay out of pocket for top-tier legal advice.

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