One driver hits another and is clearly at fault. Normally, we'd think of that as the end of the story and would expect that the driver's insurance would pay for the injuries of the person who was hit. However, there are a limited number of defenses the driver or their insurer could raise that would relieve them of responsibility for the accident. One such defense is referred to as the "seat belt defense." The following article explains this defense and provides information about where and in which circumstances it may be available.
Seat Belt Defense Theory
The seat belt defense itself is relatively simple. In an accident where the person hit was supposed to be wearing a seatbelt, but wasn't, the responsible party uses the seat belt defense to reduce their liability by the amount of damages that would have been avoided if the person had been wearing their seat belt.
The seat belt defense arises as the result of car accidents' connection to torts law. Torts are legal claims that arise when someone's injury occurred as the result of another person or entity's negligence or malfeasance. There are two torts theories that are generally associated with the seat belt defense:
Either theory can result in the reduction of damages.
Seat Belt Defense Jurisdictions
There are a limited number of jurisdictions that permit the seat belt defense. They include:
Hawaii, North Dakota, Indiana, Mississippi, and Nevada haven't clearly established themselves either for or against the seat belt defense.
The rest of the states do not permit the seat belt defense: Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Washington D.C., and Wyoming.
It should also be noted that some jurisdictions limit the potential reduction in damages. Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, and Wisconsin are examples of jurisdictions that limit the use of the defense.
Get a Legal Claim Assessment
The seat belt defense is just one of a bewildering array of claims and defenses that may come into play in the litigation following a car accident. A lawyer's assistance can be very useful determining the strength of a particular claim or defense and can help you avoid getting bullied by insurers' legal counsel. Contact a local attorney for a claim assessment to learn how they can help.
Contact a qualified auto accident attorney to make sure your rights are protected.