Will the Failure to Wear a Seat Belt Impact my Personal Injury Case?
Wearing a seat belt is the law in Virginia. According to Virginia Code §46.2-1094, the driver, front-seat passengers, and anyone else under age 18 must be buckled up. The law makes sense. According to multiple studies, seat belts reduce the risk of death and serious injury considerably. For example, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 15,000 lives were saved in 2016 from wearing seat belts.
Failure to wear a seat belt may be an issue in your personal injury case. Fortunately, Virginia law states that this evidence is not admissible as evidence against you. Contact our Fairfax personal injury lawyers if you have a question.
A person who negligently injures you must pay compensation. However, Virginia recognizes “contributory negligence” where, if the victim’s negligence contributed to their injuries, they are prohibited from receiving any compensation.
Most states have backed away from this strict rule—but Virginia has not. Virginia retains one of the harshest contributory negligence laws in the nation.
It’s easy to buckle up, and the risks of being unbuckled are known to everybody. Even more, the law requires that you wear a seat belt. Does this mean you can’t receive any compensation if you were involved in a wreck while not wearing a belt?
Virginia Prohibits the “Seat Belt Defense”
Our state’s lawmakers understand that defense counsel might want to raise the seat belt defense in a personal injury lawsuit. However, our law prohibits them from doing so. This is welcome news to our clients who made a mistake and failed to have their seat belt on when they got into a wreck.
Specifically, Va. Code § 46.2-1094 states that failure to wear a seat belt:
- Shall not constitute negligence
- Cannot be considered when deciding whether to mitigate
- Cannot be admitted into evidence
- Cannot be mentioned by the attorney at trial
This is very strong protection. And the law makes sense. After all, the purpose of a personal injury dispute is to determine who is at fault for the collision. The fact that a victim was not wearing a seat belt does not cause the accident. Instead, a driver’s negligent or reckless behavior is what leads directly to wrecks.
Mitigation of Damages
Every defendant in a personal injury case can argue that the victim’s damages could have been reduced had he or she taken some sensible steps to limit the damage. For example, someone with pain in their back after a car accident should go to the doctor, not self-diagnose at home. If the victim never sees a doctor and the condition degenerates, ultimately requiring surgery, the defendant should not have to pay full damages. After all, the victim could have avoided the problem by seeking timely medical help.
Fortunately, when it comes to seat belt use, Virginia law prohibits defendants from mentioning your failure to wear a seat belt in support of mitigating damages. They can introduce other evidence—your failure to see a doctor or follow your doctor’s orders, for example, but they can’t mention the fact you didn’t have a seat belt on.
Contact Our Northern Virginia Car Accident Lawyers Today
Obtaining compensation following a car crash is hard. Insurers often try to shift the blame to innocent victims so they can reduce or avoid paying compensation. If you need assistance, contact Whitestone Young, PC today. Our team has helped many injured men and women get the money they need to pay their medical bills, replace lost wages, and compensate for their pain and suffering.