Posted September 12, 2016 | Car
After you’ve been injured in a car accident, you may be able to recover compensation if the crash or collision was caused by the other driver’s careless actions. But what if you weren’t wearing your seatbelt at the time of the accident? Is it still possible to get compensated for your injuries if you didn’t buckle up? In this article, Philadelphia car accident lawyer Brent Wieand explains whether failing to wear a seatbelt can affect the value of your auto accident claim under Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence law.
In order to understand why failure to wear a seatbelt could or couldn’t impact the worth of your personal injury claim, you also need to understand the legal concept of negligence. In short, negligence means that a person was careless – that they failed to exercise the degree of care needed to avoid a foreseeable accident. When a driver is negligent – for example, by speeding through a red light because they were looking at their iPhone instead of the road – they can potentially be held liable for injuries or wrongful death that results, as we explored in our article on fault for a rear-end collision.
However, determinations of fault and negligence aren’t always black and white. Sometimes, both drivers involved in an accident are negligent, and share some responsibility for the damages (harm) sustained by the victim. When this type of situation arises, Pennsylvania courts look to 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 7102, amended in 2011 as the Fair Share Act, which outlines a concept known as “comparative negligence.”
Pennsylvania’s comparative negligence law allows accident victims to get compensated even if they contributed to the accident or resulting injuries through their own negligent actions. However, in the interest of fairness, the law also provides that the victim’s compensation should be reduced proportionate to his or her degree of fault for the crash. For example, if the victim was 10% at fault, his or her compensation would be reduced by 10%. Only when the victim’s own negligence exceeds that of the other driver’s (51% or more) does he or she lose the ability to recover compensation.
The question is, does failure to wear a seatbelt count as negligence under Pennsylvania’s comparative fault laws?
Fortunately for crash victims, the answer is no. The applicable statute on this matter is abundantly clear. It provides, under 75 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 4581(e), the following:
“or shall failure to use a child passenger restraint system, child booster seat or safety seat belt system be considered as contributory negligence nor shall failure to use such a system be admissible as evidence in the trial of any civil action…”
Not only is the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt not an example of negligence, evidence of such an action can’t even be used at trial.
Believe it or not, most cars didn’t come with seatbelts until the late 1950s, when Saab became the first auto manufacturer to make safety restraints a standard feature instead of an option. Once treated as an afterthought, seatbelts are now recognized as a vital safety feature that effectively prevent huge numbers of accident-related deaths and injuries every year. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seatbelts saved more than 12,800 lives in 2014. That’s about 35 lives saved on every single day of the year.
Fortunately, most Americans now wear a seatbelt when traveling by car: about 88.5% as of 2015, according to NHTSA figures, which is a slight increase from 86.7% use just the year before. However, even if you normally buckle up, there are probably still times where you don’t bother to use your seatbelt – for example, when you’re just making a quick drive down the street to your neighborhood convenience store.
This is a risky habit to get into. Not only is it against Pennsylvania’s seatbelt law, which requires all drivers, front seat passengers, and children aged eight to 17 to use belt restraints – more importantly, it puts your personal safety in jeopardy every time you do it. Vehicular accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, no matter how short the distance traveled. They can even happen at the foot of your own driveway. Whether you’re traveling one mile or 100, you should always buckle up first. Even with protection from airbags, failure to wear a seatbelt still increases your risk of being killed or seriously injured in the event of a crash.
A skilled and experienced personal injury lawyer will know what sorts of strategies to use and details to emphasize in order to maximize the value of your car accident claim. Representation by a knowledgeable car or truck accident attorney gives you the greatest odds of recovering the compensation you are entitled to after being hurt in a crash or collision.
If you or one of your family members was injured in a car crash in Bucks County, Philadelphia, or other parts of Pennsylvania, don’t wait to get legal help. Compensation may be available for your medical bills, lost earnings, and other expenses. To review your car accident claim in a friendly, confidential, and completely cost-free legal consultation, call the Wieand Law Firm, LLC at (877) 654-3887 as soon as possible.
*Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes and is not legal advice. The Wieand Law Firm, LLC is based in Philadelphia, PA, and proud to serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.*