We have all heard the advertisements for “click it or ticket”. That brings different thoughts to different people. When I hear the slogan, I think of it as it relates to personal injury auto accident cases, beyond that safety aspects. Not only can wearing a safety belt save your life, but not wearing it can cost you even if you are not at-fault.This post will take a look at how not wearing a seatbelt can affect your personal injury case.
First let’s take a look at the actual law. Florida Statute § 316.614 is known as the “Florida Safety Belt Law”. It states that:
“It is unlawful for any person to operate a motor vehicle unless each passenger and the operator under the age of 18 years of age are restrained by a safety belt or by a child restraint device” § 316.614 (4A)
“To operate a motor vehicle in this state unless the person is restrained by a safety belt.” § 316.614 (4B)
This clearly places the burden on the driver to ensure that they are buckled in before driving. Further, it is also their responsibility to make sure that their passengers are restrained before driving.
The law further states that
“Any person 18 years of age or older must be restrained as a passenger in the front seat while the vehicle is in motion.” § 316.614 (5)
This is an important to remember as well. We all have undone our restraints at some point. We could be cruising down the highway to reach for something or to discipline children in the backseat. It compares to texting, the best advice is to pull over safely, before unbuckling that seatbelt. It may also provide the needed credibility for the use of “don’t make me pull this car over!” for future travels with the family.
How Not Wearing a seatbelt can affect your personal injury case?
In these types of cases you need to understand that you are dealing with:
- the defendant (the at-fault driver)
- defendant’s Insurance Company,
- the Attorneys for the defendants
They are going to try anything to offset or reduce the damages caused by the at-fault driver’s negligence. One tactic is to try to prove to a jury that the lack of using the seatbelt ‘contributed’ to the plaintiff’s injuries caused by the accident.
Unfortunately, this often times results in a “battle of the experts”. This will increase the costs of trial for both the plaintiff and the defendant.
And the statute does allow for this type of defense. Florida Statute § 316.614 (10) provides that :
“a violation of this statute shall not constitute negligence per se, nor shall such violation be used as prima facie evidence of negligence or be considered in mitigation of damages, but that such a violation may be considered as evidence of comparative negligence, in any civil action.”
In other words, they can find the defendant guilty, but reduce the amount of your award by a percentage because you or a passenger did not have on their safety belt.
A Real World Example
Let’s say you are involved in an accident that is not your fault and a jury awards you $100,000.00.
However, in their award they determined that your failure to wear a seatbelt contributed to 30% of your injuries. This will reduced your award by 30% to $70,000.00.
In that scenario, simply not wearing your seatbelt cost you $30,000.00.
As an added insult, your attorneys, to combat the defendant’s expert, had to hire an expert for the “battle of the experts”. This resulted in additional costs that would further reduce the net recovery for you, by another $5,000-10,000.00 depending.
In Florida, it is simply cost effective and prudent (wise, careful and sensible) to buckle up while in the car. It is always regrettable when looking back, before an accident, on how simple it is to get into the routine of putting on your seatbelt and making sure that everyone, in every seat, is properly secured.