If you were involved in a motor vehicle accident and were injured because you weren’t wearing a seat belt, you may be wondering if you can still file a car accident lawsuit. Here’s what you need to know about recovering damages after a car accident, even if you weren’t wearing a safety belt.
What Is Shared Liability in a Motor Vehicle Accident?
In a car accident where more than one person or entity is at fault, this is considered shared liability. For example, if two vehicles collided and one driver was drunk and the other was speeding, both are likely to be considered at fault for the accident.
However, cases like this become complicated because the law surrounding compensation for this type of negligence differs between states. They’re also more challenging because the percentage of negligence each party is responsible for must be calculated based on how the accident occurred.
Comparative Negligence Laws in Different States
Calculating the percentage of fault that belongs to each party in a shared liability case is called comparative negligence. In cases where one or both parties were not wearing a seatbelt, the case becomes even more nuanced, because some states have specific laws that allow for a “seatbelt defense” and others that strictly prohibit it.
The “Seatbelt Defense” is a colloquial term used to describe a comparative negligence defense that suggests because the injured driver was not wearing their seatbelt, the other driver is not responsible for some or all of these injuries, even though they were at fault for causing the accident.
In many states, the seatbelt defense has been integrated into comparative negligence laws and allows for the reduction of compensation if a driver who wasn’t wearing a seatbelt was hurt and would not have otherwise been injured in the same manner. However, this is not so in Massachusetts or New Hampshire.
Neither state allows for the introduction of evidence that suggests a driver was not wearing their seatbelt, along with several other states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming.
Dealing With Unscrupulous Car Insurance Companies
Despite the fact that the law in some states strictly prohibits the seatbelt defense, insurance companies may still try to shirk financial responsibility for injuries stemming from not wearing a safety belt.
They may try to get granular with it, approving reimbursement for medical care for some injuries and denying reimbursement for others that were the direct result of not wearing a seat belt, such as being ejected from the vehicle.
For example, say a driver died in a car crash as a result of being thrown from the vehicle due to not wearing a safety belt. If it’s determined that the driver likely would not have died if they were wearing the seatbelt, the other party’s insurance company may try to argue that they are not responsible for funeral expenses.
While insurance companies may try to intimidate unknowing policyholders into accepting a settlement that does not include damages for injuries related to the lack of seatbelt usage, these actions are of questionable morality. If the case goes to court in Massachusetts or New Hampshire, neither side can introduce evidence that suggests the other party was not wearing a seatbelt and were injured directly or more severely as a result.
Proving the Lack of Wearing a Seatbelt Did Not Cause or Exacerbate Your Injuries
Because Massachusetts and New Hampshire are both states that do not allow for the reduction of compensation if an injured driver wasn’t wearing their safety belt, you do not have to prove that not wearing one did not cause of your injuries. If the other driver’s insurance company asks if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt, you are not obligated to answer them or provide them with any other information.
Even if you do admit to not wearing a safety belt at the time of the collision, it legally doesn’t make a difference in either state, although it can make it more challenging to deal with the insurance company. In Massachusetts though, you may not have the opportunity to choose whether or not to say if you weren’t wearing your seatbelt; New Hampshire is the only state in the U.S. where doing so is still optional.
Get the Compensation You Deserve from an Experienced Massachusetts & New Hampshire Personal Injury Law Firm
Don’t hesitate to get legal help after being hurt in a motor vehicle accident, regardless of whether you were also at fault or if you were or weren’t wearing your seatbelt. You may still be eligible for financial compensation for the damages caused in the accident, including but not limited to restitution for damage to your vehicle, hospital bills and other medical expenses, and lost wages.
If you become permanently disabled, either partially or fully, you may be able to secure sizable or ongoing reparations to compensate you for future damages. The most important thing you can do is work with an experienced personal injury law firm to ensure your case is handled with skill and expertise.
At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we know how devastating it can be to suddenly become the victim of a severe car accident; we’ve helped families like yours for years get the compensation they deserve for injuries caused by someone else’s negligence or carelessness.
Contact our office today for more information or to schedule your initial free consultation to discuss your case in more detail by calling (978) 744-8000 or toll free at (855) 693-9084.