Who Is Responsible for No-Seat-Belt Injuries in California?

Not wearing a seat belt is a factor that could affect a personal injury claim in California. California Vehicle Code 27315 makes it mandatory for anyone 16 and older to wear a seat belt while riding in or driving a vehicle. Parents must be responsible for ensuring children under the age of 15 use safety restraint devices. If the victim of a car accident was not wearing a seat belt, this could change the way an insurance company treats the claim.

California Fault Laws and the Seat Belt Defense

In California, the driver who broke a road rule and caused the car accident will be financially responsible for damages. The at-fault party’s insurance provider will have to pay for the other victims’ losses. Before a claimant can receive compensation for injuries and damages, however, he or she will have to prove the other driver’s fault for the collision. After an investigation of the crash, the defendant or his or her insurance company may try to avoid paying damages by using the seat belt defense.

The seat belt defense is a rule California adopted that permits a defendant to argue for less liability since the injured party was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. If a driver or passenger was breaking California’s seat belt requirement when a car crashed, this could hurt his or her ability to recover full compensation during a personal injury lawsuit in California. A seat belt defense from the defendant could argue the plaintiff was partially to blame for his or her injuries due to the failure to wear a seat belt. This could lead to a smaller settlement award won by the claimant.

Pure Comparative Negligence Law

The no-seat-belt defense goes hand-in-hand with California’s comparative negligence law. While the driver or party that causes a car accident in California will be responsible for paying for no-seat-belt injuries, the percentage of the victim’s compensation the defendant will have to pay depends on the situation. When a defendant alleges a plaintiff’s comparative fault, he or she is aiming to reduce his or her own liability for the accident.

Under California’s pure comparative negligence law, a plaintiff may receive a smaller compensatory award if he or she was partially at fault for the injuries claimed. A plaintiff could be 99% at fault for damages in California and still recover 1% of compensation. If successful, the courts could accept the seat belt defense as proof of the victim’s comparative negligence and use it to diminish the final amount of damages awarded. Even if the other driver was 100% at fault for causing the auto accident, the plaintiff could receive less compensation due to the seat belt defense.

In a comparative negligence state, the degree of a plaintiff’s fault for the accident will reduce his or her compensatory award correspondingly. If the courts allocate 10% of fault to a plaintiff for failing to wear a seat belt, for example, the plaintiff would receive $90,000 if $100,000 was the original amount awarded. The defendant would get to keep the remaining $10,000 – an amount to match the 10% of the plaintiff’s fault.

How to Prove a No-Seat-Belt Defense

Proving fault and obtaining compensation with a California car insurance claim takes a preponderance of the evidence: enough to convince the courts that the defendant more likely than not is at fault for the car accident. To succeed in using the seat belt defense, the defendant must prove the plaintiff was not wearing a safety restraint device when the two vehicles collided. Proving this could take evidence from eyewitness accounts, police statements, injury examination, crash reconstruction, photographs and other sources. If you have a case involving the failure to wear a seat belt, contact a car accident lawyer in Sacramento for legal advice.