Can I Make a Recovery for Injuries Suffered in a Car Accident if I was not Wearing my Seatbelt?

The “Florida Safety Belt Law,” Section 316.614 of the Florida Statutes, which was enacted in 1986, requires that the operator and all passengers in a vehicle be seat belted.

The statute further provides that if someone is hurt in a car accident who was not wearing a seat belt, the failure to wear the seat belt “may be considered as evidence of comparative negligence” in any lawsuit filed seeking compensation for such injuries.

Florida’s application of “comparative negligence” allows a jury to apportion fault among two or more people involved in an accident. This is done by the jurors assigning percentages of fault to each person. For the most part, these percentages are used to determine how much of a person’s total losses he or she will be entitled to recover. For example, if a jury awards $100,000.00 for pain and suffering, but finds that the injured person was 50% at fault for causing his or her injuries by failing to wear a seat belt, that person would receive a judgment for $50,000.00 instead of the full $100,000.00.

Expert witnesses are typically hired by both the injured person and the insurance company defending the claim to testify about the extent of injuries that would have occurred had the seat belt been worn. Of course, it is extremely difficult to determine what would have happened in a hypothetical scenario.

In the world of lawsuits, “extremely difficult” usually translates to “extremely expensive,” and this situation is certainly no exception. Typically, two experts are needed to demonstrate the degree of any enhanced injury that resulted from a failure to wear a seat belt: an accident reconstructionist; and a biomechanical engineer. Both of these types of experts charge hundreds of dollars per hour and must do extensive work to determine the cause of a person’s injuries and whether wearing a seat belt would have made a difference.

In some situations, wearing a seat belt would likely not have mattered, such as when a person suffers a broken leg from a complete collapse of the occupant compartment inside the car. On the other hand, a spinal injury resulting from a vehicle roll over may present a situation whether the failure to wear a seat belt did contribute to the injuries. For most accidents; however, it is very hard to tell what, if any, difference wearing a seat belt would have made.

Of course, the best bet is to always wear your seatbelt. The United States’ Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that seat belts reduce serious injuries and deaths resulting from car accidents by fifty percent. In 2009, Florida changed seat belt violations from a “secondary” offense to a “primary” offense, which means that a police officer can stop you if the only thing you are doing wrong is failing to use a seat belt. Previously, when it was a secondary offense, an officer could only ticket you if you were pulled over for doing something else wrong. Studies demonstrate that making a seat belt violation a primary offense increases seat belt usage and thus, prevents injuries and deaths.