Written by attorney Julie K. Kurtz

The Florida Seatbelt Defense in Automobile Accidents

Wearing a seat belt significantly increases the odds of surviving a car crash. Every hour someone dies in America simply because they didn’t buckle up. Not only can failing to buckle up raise the chance of death or serious injury, it also could reduce the amount of compensation that a victim is entitled to recover following an accident.

In a personal injury claim, if the victim was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, the defense may argue that the failure to wear the safety belt worsened or created the injuries sustained and should influence the value of the plaintiff's claims accordingly. This is generally referred to as the seat belt defense. In most jurisdictions, a successful seat belt defense allows victims to recover only for damages they would have incurred if they had been wearing their seat belts.

If a defendant is able to successfully argue that it was the lack of wearing a seat belt that caused the injuries to the plaintiff, the defendant can generally escape some or all financial liability for the accident. This is true even if the defendant was negligent. The rules of tort law are set up that a plaintiff has the burden of proving several different things to recover from a car accident. These include the following:

  • Negligence/breach of duty on the part of the defendant: This means that the defendant failed to behave with the due care that any reasonable driver would behave with.
  • Causation: This means proving that the negligence was the direct or proximate cause of the injury and that the injury would not have occurred, but for the negligence.

The seat belt defense attacks causation. The defendant asserts that the injuries were caused not by his/her negligence but instead by the plaintiff's failure to wear a seat belt. This can, thus, be considered to be negligent on the part of the plaintiff, as most reasonable drivers would wear a seat belt. If a plaintiff's own negligence in not wearing the seat belt caused his or her injuries rather than the negligence of the defendant, then it would not be fair to hold the defendant responsible.

In some cases, the defendant can entirely escape financial risk if he/she is able to show that the seat belt was 100 percent responsible for the injuries. In other cases, the defendant's liability may be reduced by the portion of the fault that is afforded to the fact that the seat belt was not worn.

Asserting or countering the seat belt defense in Florida requires the knowledge and guidance of an experienced professional. Attempting to pursue or defend against a claim following a crash without the guidance of an attorney could hurt your case. The attorneys at Canan Law are ready to review your car accident case today and help you understand your options to receive fair and just compensation.

Call us or stop by our offices at 43 Cincinnati Avenue in downtown St. Augustine if you have any questions about auto accidents or personal injury cases.

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