It is common knowledge these days that wearing a seat belt is an important safety issue. In nearly every state, there is some version of a seat belt law. But what happens in car accidents when the victim was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident? Some states recognize what is referred to as the “seat belt defense.” Your car accident lawyer can help you determine how the defense may affect your case, but here are the basics.
First, what are the seat belt laws in your state?
According to the Governor’s Highway Safety Association, state seat belt laws are divided into two categories: primary and secondary. Primary seat belt laws authorize ticketing a driver or passenger for not wearing a seat belt, without any other traffic offense necessary. Secondary seat belt laws only authorize a ticket when there is another citable traffic offense.
In Arkansas, drivers and passengers age 15 and over and occupying the front seat of the vehicle must wear a seat belt. This is a primary seat belt law, meaning that covered drivers and passengers in Arkansas can get a ticket for breaking this law with no other offense necessary.
In Missouri, there is a primary seat belt law for occupants age 8 – 15, regardless of whether they are in the front or back seats, must be wearing a seat belt. The secondary law requires drivers and occupants in the front seat, age 16 and older, to wear a seat belt. However, a ticket can only be issued if there is another citable offense.
The seat belt defense in a nutshell
A driver is sitting at a traffic light waiting for it to turn green and she is rear-ended. She is struck with such force that her head goes through the windshield, resulting in severe injuries. The injured driver was not wearing a seat belt, however. In a case like that, in a state that recognizes the seat belt defense, insurance companies will use the defense that the injuries were the result of the driver who failed to wear her seat belt. The theory is, if she had been wearing her seat belt, her head would not have struck the windshield, resulting in the severe injuries she sustained.
Which states recognize this defense?
Some states allow the seat belt defense to limit the damages that can be awarded in a car accident when the victim was not wearing a seat belt. In some cases, the damages are reduced even if the responsible party was entirely at fault for the accident. Currently, the majority of states in our country (31) have rejected the seat belt defense to liability in car accidents. That includes Arkansas. Fifteen states allow for some amount of reduction of damages for the failure to wear a seat belt. Missouri falls into this category. In Missouri, the defendants are entitled to assert the seat belt defense, but it can only reduce a plaintiff’s damage award by one percent.
Car accident lawyer can help with the seat belt defense
Whether you were the victim or you were involved in an accident where the alleged victim did not have on their seat belt, contacting a car accident lawyer is a good idea because they will know the laws in your state. The best way to avoid the need to guard against the seat belt defense is to be sure to always wear your seat belt.
Damages in Car Accident Cases
Accidents happen, even to the best drivers. Regardless of how minor your injuries may seem at first, you should always seek medical attention as soon after a car accident as you can. Remember to tell your doctor that you were involved in a car accident and describe exactly what happened. The purpose of a damages award in a personal injury case is to make the victim “whole.” This basically means compensating the victim for everything was lost as a result of the accident or injury. The only way to accomplish that is through a monetary award. Your car accident lawyer can help to make sure you prove all of your damages.
How much can you recover for damages?
The amount of compensation you may recover after a car accident depends on the type of damages you suffered. Each claim is different, both factually and with regard to which laws apply to your claim. The most important element used in determining the value of a car accident claim is the nature and seriousness of your injuries. A car accident lawyer is very skilled at helping you to determine the value of your case and what a reasonable recovery would be.
If you have questions regarding car accidents, or any other personal injury concerns in Arkansas or Missouri, please contact the Cottrell Law Office for a consultation, either online or by calling us as (888) 433-4861.
He is licensed to practice law in the United States District Court for the District of Kansas, eastern Arkansas, western Arkansas, and western Missouri. He was Deputy Prosecuting Attorney in Crawford County, Kansas from 1987-1989.
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