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Can I Still Recover Damages in California if I Was Not Wearing a Seatbelt?

Personal injury cases can cover a variety of incidents, such as slips and falls, medical malpractice, and of course, car accidents. In fact, the California Highway Patrol estimates there are about 1,500 car accidents every day! When involved in a car accident, injured individuals may seek financial compensation for injuries and other damages. However, one of the most common questions that are asked after a car accident is whether an injured person has the right to compensation if they were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. 

So, are you still entitled to recover damages if not wearing a seat belt at the time of the incident? We will discuss this and your personal injury claim options now!

What is the Seat Belt Law in California?

Imagine this: you are driving through an intersection with a green light in your favor, when out of nowhere, a car runs its red light and slams into your vehicle. The accident is traumatic and you call the appropriate authorities, but it is discovered you are not wearing a seat belt at the time of the incident. What does this mean for you, and for your personal injury claim? 

Every state has different laws when it comes to liability in a vehicle accident or other personal injury incident. When it comes to the state of California, there is a seat belt law that the only people who do not have to wear a seat belt in the car are those with medical disabilities or those who are in occupations that make frequent stops, such as mail delivery people or waste collection personnel. However, besides these exceptions, there are no other exceptions to the rule of wearing a seat belt. Even children who are too small to wear a seat belt must be restrained in the relevant car or booster seat while in a moving vehicle. 

Failure to wear a seat belt in California is considered a violation of the law and can proceed with a ticket. The amount fined can vary due to whether it is an adult or child caught without a seat belt, but it is certain you will be ticketed. 


Not Wearing a Seat Belt in a Car Accident?

If you are involved in a car accident without a seat belt on, you may still be able to receive compensation for your injuries. You will probably receive a ticket from the responding officer at the scene of the incident, but you may still be eligible to receive financial compensation for any damages obtained. 

Because California is a comparative negligence state, if you are not wearing a seat belt at the time of the car accident, the amount of compensation for damages may change. You may be assigned a percentage of fault by the court if there is evidence some injuries could have been avoided with seat belt use.

What is the Seat Belt Defense?

Failure to wear a seat belt at the time of a car accident can have an impact on compensation. This is because the other liable driver may argue that not wearing a seat belt caused most injuries to the plaintiff. A negligent driver who wants to lessen the amount they have to pay in damages would have to prove in the seat belt defense that: 

  • Normal care would involve using the available seat belt
  • Wearing a seat belt would have prevented the injuries or made them much less serious

It is crucial to note that the seat belt defense is not an absolute defense. The seat belt defense does not dissolve the liable driver for their hand in the accident, it may simply get the compensation amount reduced.

How to File a Personal Injury Claim if You Weren’t Wearing a Seat Belt?

Filing a personal injury claim from an accident where you weren’t wearing a seat belt is not much different than any personal injury claim would be. During this type of personal injury claim, you and your accident attorney simply have to prove:

  • Another driver caused the car accident
  • The accident occurred as a result of a negligent or reckless act
  • The accident caused your injuries

As long as you can provide strong evidence for this claim, the matter of you not wearing a seat belt is a completely separate topic. This is why it is important after a car accident to alert authorities. It does not matter if you are ticked for failure to wear a seat belt, because you are still taking the right steps to alert the police, get your injuries checked, and develop a written record of the accident. 

Make sure to take videos and photos of your vehicle and the scene of the accident. Ask any eyewitnesses for their contact info to reference back if you need a testimony for your personal injury claim. By getting the right evidence, you can still build a strong personal injury claim for your vehicle accident, even past the seat belt violation. 

What Damages Can You Receive Compensation For?

Whether you were wearing a seat belt or not, you may still be entitled to financial compensation for any damages that came as a consequence of the car accident. The fact of the matter is that you were still involved in a car accident, and those have very expensive and severe damages that can completely alter your life. You may be entitled to financial compensation to cover: 

  • Medical expenses and future treatment expenses that may arise
  • Loss of wages from being unable to work as a result of injury
  • Lost earning potential
  • Any vehicle repair costs

Though your compensation for damages can be reduced as a result of not wearing a seat belt at the time of the car accident, it’s important to consult with a personal injury lawyer first. An expert personal injury lawyer who has handled many similar cases can highlight the next steps and what you can do to avoid or lessen the reduced compensation amount. 

Do You Have a Right to Compensation?

Failure to wear a seat belt at the time of a car accident may make you believe you are not entitled to compensation. However, this is far from the truth. In fact, as long as you are able to still prove negligence on behalf of another liable driver, you are still owed compensation. 

Though failure to wear a seat belt can be ticketed, this is a completely separate matter from your right to compensation. The liable driver of the accident may use the seat belt defense to argue their way out of paying, but this will only reduce the compensation amount. You are still owed rightful financial reimbursement for medical bills, loss of wages, emotional distress, and much more. 

Wearing a seat belt is a legal requirement, but failure to do so does not mean you should take on all expenses from a car accident on your own. In fact, the statute of limitations for filing a personal injury claim in California for a car accident is 2 years. This means you have that allotted time to file a claim and hold liable parties accountable for possible compensation. Even if you were driving in error by not wearing a seat belt, you are still entitled to financial compensation. Work alongside a dedicated personal injury lawyer in San Diego to get started on your personal injury claim today!


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