Even if you did not wear a seatbelt at the time of the accident, you could still recover damages for your losses. However, the at-fault party and their insurance company can use that as a mitigating factor in allocating liability, which can have a direct impact on how much compensation you receive.
How Does Failing to Wear a Seatbelt Exacerbate Injuries?
The most significant danger to driving without a seatbelt is the possibility of being ejected from the vehicle during a collision. Wearing a seatbelt could prevent certain injuries. In addition, failing to wear a seatbelt can turn an ordinary accident potentially lethal.
Seatbelts safeguard drivers; driving without one increases your risk of experiencing injuries such as fractures, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and whiplash. However, the extent to which your failure to wear a seatbelt contributed to your injuries will require a thorough examination.
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How Do Maryland Fault Laws Influence My Case?
It is crucial to know the fault laws of your state of residence. How your state allocates liability is an essential factor in determining how much the lack of a seatbelt can affect your case:
- In a pure comparative fault state, you can still recover damages even if a court or insurer determines you bear some fault in the accident. However, whatever percentage of fault the court or insurance adjustor assigns you will reduce your overall damages proportionately. For example, if your settlement is $100,000, but a jury deemed you 40% at fault, you will only receive $60,000 in damages.
- In a modified comparative negligence state, you can recover damages if you are partially at fault—but only if your share of the blame is 49% or less. Otherwise, you will be unable to pursue compensation.
Therefore, in a comparative negligence case, the at-fault party and their insurance company will almost certainly use the fact that you did not wear a seatbelt against you to attempt to lower your settlement. This tactic is called the seatbelt defense.
The Seatbelt Defense
The seatbelt defense is a tool that an insurance company or at-fault driver can use to shift blame for the crash. It holds that the victim could have avoided specific injuries had they worn a seatbelt at the time of the crash. As a result, they should have their monetary recovery reduced.
Though this defense is a potent tool against the plaintiff, a victim could argue wearing a seatbelt would not have stopped them from being hurt. However, that argument depends on the extent of their injuries—particularly if an evaluation proves a seatbelt would not have reasonably prevented the injury.
Every case is different, and establishing a seatbelt would not have prevented an injury can be challenging to determine.
Affirmative Defense and Mitigation
An injured party pursuing compensation could mitigate their share of fault for an accident by showing they took reasonable action before and after an accident. However, this defense is also available to defendants and insurers and could overlap with the seatbelt defense.
In other situations, the at-fault motorist may even concede culpability for the crash while claiming the victim failed to mitigate further damages. The strategy, known as an affirmative defense, could reduce how much the at-fault driver must pay in restitution.
Proof of Applicability
The defendant in question must connect your injuries and your lack of wearing a seatbelt to reduce your settlement successfully. However, if they cannot make this connection, they cannot use the seatbelt defense in your case.
There could also be other complicating factors present, such as a broken or missing seatbelt in your vehicle. Again, you could use this information to bring the seatbelt defense into question.
Should I Speak to Insurers After My Accident if I Didn’t Wear a Seatbelt?
Due to the delicate nature of your financial situation after a car accident, you might want professional legal assistance to negotiate on your behalf when pursuing compensation. That’s especially true if you and the at-fault party reside in a state that allows the use of the seatbelt defense, which could reduce your recovery in many cases.
Your settlement or jury verdict will factor in your medical expenses, lost income, and other economic damages. In addition, you could recover damages for pain and suffering. However, receiving only a partial distribution could leave you in dire financial straits.
Thus, having a lawyer well-versed in your state’s laws could help you argue against the seatbelt defense. In addition, many states place a statutory limit on how much fault an at-fault driver can put on the victim using the seatbelt defense.
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Can A Maryland Car Accident Lawyer Help Me Recover Damages?
Personal injury attorneys are extremely knowledgeable of car accident laws and can tell you decide if you have a case. If you in fact have a case, and decide to file an injury lawsuit, a car accident lawyer can help with proving fault, obtaining records and assisting you in getting the maximum benefits available. Did you suffer injuries in a car crash after failing to wear a seatbelt? If so, contact the team at Jenner Law today for assistance. We can devise a strategy to counter the seatbelt defense and other affirmative defenses.
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