Let’s start with the obvious: California law requires nearly all vehicle drivers and passengers to wear a seatbelt for their own safety. Violating seatbelt laws can result in a fine, and most people wear one because they are perhaps the best way to protect yourself in the event of a crash.
There are times, however, when people forget to wear a seatbelt, cannot wear one or choose not to wear one for personal reasons. If you happen to be involved in a crash (caused by another driver) while not wearing a seatbelt, does your failure to buckle up prevent you from claiming compensation from the at-fault driver and their insurance company? Thankfully, the answer is no, but it could reduce the amount of money you are entitled to.
California’s comparative negligence laws
California is a comparative negligence or comparative fault state. This legal principle recognizes that both parties in an accident may share some blame for causing the accident or the injuries associated with it, and that shared blame shouldn’t disqualify someone from seeking compensation. The plaintiff’s total compensation will simply be reduced by their level of fault.
Say that you were in a car accident and a jury determined that you were 15 % at fault. If you won your case, you could still receive 85 % of the total damages you were seeking (which is full damages minus the 15 %).
There could be a number of reasons why some blame was assigned to you, including failure to wear a seatbelt.
No-seatbelt liability specifically addressed by law
It is important to note that, by law, failure to wear a seatbelt does not prohibit you from claiming compensation. Under California Vehicle Code § 27315(i), your failure to wear a seatbelt when legally required to do so “does not establish negligence as a matter of law or negligence per se for comparative fault purposes.”
In many states, defendants and insurance companies attempt to argue that a plaintiff’s failure to buckle up should disqualify them from any compensation. Thankfully, California takes the much more rational approach that failure to wear a seatbelt could reduce your compensation but not bar you from it entirely.
Maximizing your compensation with the help of an attorney
How much would a failure to buckle up impact your percentage of fault? That question is answered on a case-by-case basis and depends on the other details of the crash. This is one reason why it is important to work with a skilled personal injury attorney like those at Woods Williford, P.C. We advocate aggressively on your behalf to minimize the percentage of fault assigned to you and to maximize your available compensation. We have decades of experience helping injury victims in California, and we can help you, too.
To learn more about what we can do for you, reach out online to take advantage of a free initial consultation about your case.