Does Not Wearing a Seatbelt Affect Your Injury Claim After a Car Accident?

Seatbelt Affect Car Accident Insurance Claim

You may wonder, does not wearing a seatbelt affect your insurance claim if you were recently injured in a Florida crash while not buckled up? Because Florida uses a pure comparative negligence rule, you can still receive a settlement if you are injured when not wearing your seatbelt. However, your right to maximum compensation may be impacted without a skilled lawyer to protect your rights against aggressive insurers.

As a car accident victim, you can work with our attorneys at Emerson Straw to assess the facts of your claim and determine the options for making a financial recovery and getting a fair settlement.

Seatbelt Laws in Florida

Florida prioritizes seatbelt safety by mandating safety belts for all drivers and front seat passengers in all motorized vehicles. Under statute 316.614, children under 18 must wear a seatbelt or use an appropriate child restraint device when in a vehicle. Persons over 18 must wear a seatbelt in the front seat but may choose not to wear their safety restraints in the back seat.

The seatbelt laws in Florida are primary enforcement laws, which means police officers can stop a car if they see a driver or a passenger without a seatbelt. Drivers and passengers 18 years or older who are not correctly restrained can receive a citation for not following the law. A driver who fails to secure a seatbelt for a passenger under 18 can be issued a seatbelt violation ticket.

Seatbelt Effects on Injury

In Florida, there were 236 fatalities and 534 incapacitating injuries in 2021 due to a lack of restraint use. The National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that seatbelts saved 404,000 lives from 1975 to 2019, and in 2017 alone, seatbelts saved 14,955 lives. However, an additional 2,549 lives could have been saved if everyone had buckled up.

Injuries From Not Using a Seatbelt

When you don’t wear a seatbelt, you increase your risk of being thrown from the vehicle or hitting other people or objects in the car. These incidents often result in serious injuries like TBIs, broken bones, road rash, or spinal cord damage.

Even at lower speeds, secondary collisions can cause injuries. However, when you wear a seatbelt, you’re better protected in case of an accident. Seatbelts distribute the impact of a crash across your body to other areas, such as your shoulders, ribs, and hips, and hold you in place, protecting you from multiple impacts.

Simply putting on a seatbelt can reduce your risk of moderate to severe injuries in a crash by almost 50%.

Risks to Other Passengers in the Vehicle When Not Wearing Seatbelts

The risk of injury or death to other occupants of your vehicle increases by 40% when unbelted passengers are present. A head-on collision is more likely to result in injuries to the front-seat passenger and driver due to unbelted back-seat passengers. People seated next to unrestrained passengers are likelier to be injured in a side-impact crash.

A 2021 study found that drivers and front seat passengers who didn’t wear seatbelts faced higher risks of head injuries, hospitalization, and intensive care admission. Those who didn’t wear seatbelts were twice as likely to undergo intensive surgical procedures. The severity of traumatic brain injuries was almost four times higher than those wearing seatbelts.

How Not Wearing a Seatbelt May Affect Your Compensation After a Crash

Does not wearing a seatbelt affect your insurance claim? In Florida, you can still receive compensation if you weren’t wearing your seatbelt in an accident. But your award may be impacted by whether or not you were buckled up and how much your own actions contributed to your injuries.

PIP Insurance Coverage

Florida is a first-party insurance state, meaning you file your personal injury protection (PIP) claim with your auto insurance company after your car accident, regardless of fault. Your PIP covers 80% of all reasonable and necessary medical expenses up to $10,000 arising from a covered injury. PIP applies the same coverage whether or not you were wearing a seatbelt when the accident occurred.

Florida’s Seatbelt Defense

If you file a third-party claim or a personal injury lawsuit for damages, the insurer may try to reduce or deny your settlement using the seatbelt defense. This defense allows insurers to consider comparative negligence and assign fault to you due to your failure to use a seatbelt.

To successfully use the seatbelt defense, the insurance company must be able to prove the following:

  • You didn’t use an operational seatbelt. The insurance provider must prove that the vehicle had functional seatbelts. This initial evidence will establish that the seatbelts were in working condition.
  • It was unreasonable for you not to wear a seatbelt. Insurance companies can cite you violated Florida’s seatbelt law unless you are exempt due to a medical condition or work in the delivery, farming, trucking, and transportation industries.
  • Non-use of your seatbelt caused your injuries. Medical witnesses can testify that you not having your seatbelt on caused your injuries. If you sustained injuries after being ejected from the vehicle, the insurance company can establish the cause without expert testimony.
Seatbelt Safety in Florida

How Pure Comparative Negligence May Factor into Your Case

If you are found partially responsible for the crash, you may still be able to recover damages from the other party under Florida’s pure comparative fault system. However, the amount of damages you can recover will be reduced proportionately based on your percentage of fault.

For example, the insurance company can consider all the evidence, including whether you were wearing a seatbelt, to determine your percentage of fault in the accident. Florida law says that insurers cannot claim non-seatbelt use as the primary cause of negligence, but it can be used with other evidence to determine fault.

If they show that not wearing your safety restraint contributed to your injuries, it can add to your total liability and reduce your eligible compensation.

Your attorney from Emerson Straw can argue that your failure to wear a seatbelt did not contribute to the accident or was not the primary cause of the injuries sustained. To support this argument, your lawyer may use various pieces of evidence, including:

  • Eyewitness testimony: Your lawyer can interview eyewitnesses to support your claim that your failure to wear your seatbelt didn’t cause your injuries. If an eyewitness saw the other driver texting while driving at the time of the accident, they may testify that distracted driving caused the accident, not your failure to wear a seatbelt.
  • Medical records: Your attorney can use medical records to show that the injuries you suffered were not due to your lack of seatbelt usage. For example, you suffered a head injury from an object that flew into the car or a broken bone due to how the car compacted. Your medical records show how these injuries occurred and their prognosis, which was not affected by seatbelt use.
  • Accident reconstruction expert report: Accident reconstruction experts can prove that your failure to wear a seatbelt didn’t impact your accident. For example, accident reconstruction experts will study the photos and videos you took of the accident site showing skid marks and debris and analyze the damage on all vehicles to determine how the crash occurred and who had the right of way.

Protect Your Legal Right to Compensation with an Experienced Car Accident Attorney

At Emerson Straw Injury Law, we understand the importance of receiving compensation after a car crash to help you recover from your injuries. Although not wearing your seatbelt can lead to more serious damages in a crash, it should not bar you from a settlement if another driver’s negligence was the cause.

We are skilled in navigating Florida’s car accident claims and can help you prove your injuries for maximum compensation. We will use our negotiation experience to lower your percentage of fault and come to a fair payout amount with the insurance company so you can focus on recovery.

Contact our attorneys today to book your free consultation. We can help you understand your legal options and how not wearing a seatbelt affects your injury claim.