Can Not Wearing a Seatbelt Affect Your Personal Injury Claim?


Getting into a car accident runs the gamut of emotions: It’s scary, stressful, and infuriating. Add to that the exasperation of potentially having to pay a hefty deductible and extra costs for insurance premiums, and it’s enough to send anyone into a panic.

But even during your freakout, you must take a moment to regroup and think about what caused the accident. Even if some of your injuries could’ve hypothetically been prevented by wearing a seatbelt, other factors come into play:

How Does Not Wearing a Seatbelt Affect Your Car Accident Settlement

When you sue someone after a car accident, you have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the accident was the Defendant’s fault (the Defendant is the person or entity you’re suing).

A “preponderance of the evidence” is a legal term that means that something was more likely than not to have occurred. For example, if you get into a car crash with a drunk driver who ran a red light, it is more likely than not that the drunk driver caused the accident.

Now, it is possible for the Defendant to claim that the fact that you weren’t wearing a seatbelt should be taken into account. This is because Florida is a comparative negligence jurisdiction.

What is Comparative Negligence in Florida?

In order to prevail in a negligence claim, you have to prove the following elements existed:

  1. Duty of care
  2. Breach
  3. Causation
  4. Damages

In a car accident scenario, both drivers have a duty of care to drive carefully and to respect all transit laws. By the same token, the Department of Transportation has a duty of care to keep roads and visibility in optimal conditions, and car manufacturers have a duty of care to ensure that the motor vehicles they make are in proper working order.

Going back to the drunk driver hypothetical: Someone who drives drunk and runs a red light is breaching his or her duty of care, and that breach caused your damages (injuries and costly repairs to your car).

If you weren’t wearing a seatbelt, you also breached your duty to comply with transit laws. That breach may have caused your injuries to be worse.

Florida law establishes that, in a negligence lawsuit, if you’re partly at fault for your injuries, it only means that the percentage of your fault will be deducted from the amount of damages you can recover from the Defendant.

For example, let’s say that you go to trial because you have tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills due to a broken clavicle, a broken nose, and thousands of dollars in auto repairs.

A doctor testifies that, after reviewing your medical records, she concludes that it is more likely than not that had you been wearing your seatbelt, you wouldn’t have broken your clavicle. However, your broken nose results from the airbags deploying (which would’ve happened regardless of whether or not you were wearing your seatbelt). While you wouldn’t be able to recover the medical bills for the broken clavicle, you could recover the medical costs for your broken nose.

You could also recover for the costs of repairing your car since your motor vehicle would’ve been just as damaged regardless of whether or not you wore your seatbelt. If you had to miss days from work, you could also recover for lost wages. If you now have PTSD or suffer from anxiety attacks after the accident, you could recover for pain and suffering. If your injuries affect your ability to carry on a normal relationship with your spouse at home (e.g. helping with errands, household chores, raising kids, and having sexual relations), you could recover for loss of consortium. And so on, and so forth.

In a nutshell: The Defendant will still be on the hook for whichever parts were caused by his or her negligence.

How do “No Fault” laws affect your claim?

Ok. Now that we explained the ins and outs of prevailing in a negligence lawsuit, it’s important to point out that in Florida, it is compulsory for all car insurance carriers to provide Personal Injury Protection (PIP).

Under PIP, insurance policies are required to cover 80% of the medical bills for:

  • The named insured
  • Relatives who live in the same home as the insured
  • Persons driving the insured’s car
  • Passengers in the insured’s car
  • Other persons struck by the insured’s car

PIP also covers 60% of lost wages, regardless of who was at fault for the accident.

However, these benefits aren’t infinite. They have a cap of $10,000. So if you got into an accident and the total damages are $10,000.00 or less, you can bypass the entire lawsuit process. All you have to do is file a PIP claim with your insurance company within 14 days from the date of the accident (this 14 day period is required by law. If you miss it, you lose your chance of getting the costs covered).

If your damages are over $10,000, then you can file a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault party.

Call the St. Petersburg Car Accident Lawyers at Clark Hartpence Law for a Free Consultation

Many things can affect the outcome of a car accident claim. This is why it’s crucial to talk to a personal injury attorney. Not doing so could greatly affect your chances of getting an adequate recovery for your damages.

If you or someone you love was involved in a car accident, call us at (855) 680-4911 or schedule a free consultation.

Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and does not create an attorney/client relationship.