Can Wearing a Seatbelt Affect your Car Accident Injury Claim?

California, like most states, created motor vehicle laws designed to increase passenger safety and reduce death and injuries on roadways. Seatbelts save lives, and numerous studies over time have been conducted to prove that statement. Most states have mandatory seatbelt laws, and California is no exception. Anyone over 8 years of age must wear a seatbelt in a moving vehicle on a California roadway. Anyone younger than 8 must also be adequately restrained in a car seat, booster, or rear-facing seat.

When California’s seatbelt laws are violated, it can lead to fines. But, if you’ve been involved in a car accident and suffered injuries due to another driver, you may be wondering if you can still sue even if you weren’t wearing a seat belt.

California’s Seat Belt Laws

California Vehicle Code Section 27315 covers seat belt requirements. It is also known as the Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

The most critical seat belt requirements found under Vehicle Code 27315 are:

  • All passengers 16 years of age or older must be properly restrained by a safety belt.
  • The seat belt requirement applies to the driver as well as a passenger.
  • According to the law, children under 8 must be properly restrained in their respective car seat, booster, or rear-facing car seat.

California also defines what it means to be “properly restrained.” It means that the lower lap portion of the belt crosses over the occupant’s hips. The upper part of the belt rests across the person’s chest. Also, the seat belts must be in working order. Failure to comply with seat belt law is a violation and can increase penalties with each offense.

Can I Sue if I Wasn’t Wearing a Seat Belt?

The answer is yes. California allows an injured party to file a lawsuit, even if they violate the seat belt law.

California is a “comparative fault” state. In an “at-fault” state, an injured person has to show that the harm resulted from another person’s negligence.  Under comparative fault laws, a person’s claim won’t be thrown out if they contributed to their injury. However, if the injured party was also partially responsible for their damages, compensation can be reduced accordingly.

A defendant is within their rights to raise a “seat belt defense” if the person suing wasn’t wearing it. That information is relevant and will be considered when discussing the amount of damages the defendant would have to pay.

When determining whether and to what degree the plaintiff was negligent in causing their own injury, a judge or jury will consider:

  • The condition of the seatbelt and whether it was working
  • Why the plaintiff didn’t have to wear a seatbelt. Common defenses for not wearing a seat belt include an emergency that prevents a person from wearing one or a medical condition.
  • Whether the injuries suffered would be less severe if they’d worn a seat belt

If you’ve been harmed in a car accident and weren’t wearing a seat belt, you should still seek legal advice. An experienced personal injury attorney at Dan Rose Law can advise you whether you have grounds for a suit and to what extent the failure of wearing a seatbelt affects your case.