Not wearing seat belt may reduce your settlement

Seat belts. To paraphrase an age-old saying, they’re not only a good idea, they’re the law, mandatory for all adults – in addition to children – to wear in 49 of the 50 states.

The effectiveness of seat belts is the main reason why they’re required. Indeed, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 13,940 lives were spared in 2015, simply because motorists were strapped into their seats at the time of the crash. If more people had been buckled, an additional 2,800 highway fatalities could have been avoided.

Yet because virtually everyone acknowledges seat belts lower the risk of both severe injury and death in automobile crashes, not wearing one has the potential to reduce your claim settlement if you’re in an accident that wasn’t your fault.

As noted by Gary Wickert, an insurance subrogation expert, more than a dozen states have legislation on the books that restricts the amounts motorists can sue for – or be awarded with – if they weren’t buckled during a traffic collision. These include Oregon, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Arizona, Michigan Georgia and Florida, among others.

Thanks in part to automakers going to greater lengths to ensure motorists strap themselves in – installing audible and visible alerts that continue unabated until drivers buckle – most Americans wear seat belts. In fact, in 2016, NHTSA estimates nearly 90 percent of motorists used them regularly, the highest compliance rate on record. Since 1975, approximately 345,000 motor vehicle drivers and passengers have avoided potentially fatal injuries. The 90 percent compliance rate is a major improvement from previous years, when the average was below 85 percent as recently as 2007.

Unrestrained passengers account for nearly half of fatalities in 2014

The social awareness of seat belt protection may be part of the reason why 15 states have adopted various permutations of the so-called “seat belt defense,” as Wickert describes it, because by not buckling up, motorists are taking a significant risk. As referenced by the NHTSA, of the nearly 35,100 people who died in car accidents in 2015, almost 50 percent were unrestrained at the time. By making use of seat belts, drivers reduce their risk of fatal injury by 45 percent and moderate-to-critical injury by 50 percent.

Even though almost 33 percent of the U.S. has rules in place that restrict lawsuit settlements amounts in car accident cases, the statutes are far from uniform. For instance, Wickert notes how in places like Wisconsin, 15 percent of an accident’s aftermath can be attributed to the motorist who didn’t cause it, simply because he or she wasn’t using a seat belt. However, in California, the seat belt defense applies to what juries are and aren’t allowed to hear when juries are determining comparative fault.

“In a civil action, a violation of [the seat belt use law] does not establish negligence as a matter of law or negligence per se for comparative fault purposes, but negligence may be proven as fact without regard to the violation,” according to California Vehicle Code 27315(i), Wickert cited.

49 of the 50 states require drivers to use their seat belts.

Could more states adopt seat belt defense laws?

Although most states don’t have seat belt defense statutes, it’s possible more could pass similar legislation, as increasing amounts of evidence point to seat belts reducing fatality risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who live in rural locations are less likely to wear seat belts. As a result, in 2014, traffic deaths in most rural counties were three to 10 times higher compared to urban counties.

“These findings remind us that no matter what kind of road you are traveling on, it is important for everyone to buckle up every time on every trip,” warned Brenda Fitzgerald, CDC director.

In summary, just because you were not at fault in an accident doesn’t mean your case is a slam dunk. Each state has unique rules that can make a case complicated to present to a judge or jury on your own. And even if you win, it may be awhile before you’re compensated. Global Financial can provide you with a cash advance, giving you the funding to ensure you’re fully compensated for medical bills. Apply today for fast cash when you need it.

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