Several states allow what is known as “the seatbelt defense” to limit an injured victim’s recovery after a car accident. The logic behind this law is that we should all be wearing seatbelts, and if the victim was wearing a seatbelt, he or she would not have been hurt as badly, therefore, he or she should only be able to recover the amount for injuries that the victim would have sustained if he or she was in fact wearing a seat belt. Some states base this argument on the plaintiff’s duty to mitigate his damages.
The law says that when one person is injured by the negligence of another, the victim still bears the burden of taking reasonable steps to stop the bleeding. They have to do what a reasonable person would do to get healthy and prevent further injury. Proponents of the seatbelt defense argue that in order to prevent further injury, every driver should be wearing a seatbelt because reasonable people understand that a car accident could possibly occur. Therefore, in order to mitigate damages in a potential car wreck, one must be wearing a seatbelt at all times. Other states consider the seatbelt defense to be a part of comparative negligence. Comparative negligence is widely accepted in tort law. It allows each party to be responsible for the percentage of their negligence that contributed to causing the harm.
An at-fault driver can use comparative negligence to decrease an award or settlement by arguing that they are only 60% at fault, rather than 100%. If they are successful in proving that in court, they will only have to pay 60% of the damages that resulted from the crash. That situation can be crushing for an injured victim because they will likely be left covering some necessary medical bills themselves.
Luckily, in Utah, we don’t think that is fair. The majority of states do not allow the seatbelt defense to limit an innocent plaintiff's recovery and Utah is one of the majority. If you are in a car accident in Southern Utah, and it is not your fault, you will still be able to recover the full amount that your personal injury and property damage claims are worth even if you were not wearing a seat belt. This is true even though the motto in Utah is, “click it or ticket.” State law requires all occupants of a moving automobile to be wearing a seatbelt. If an officer observes a driver age nineteen or under not wearing a seatbelt, the officer may pull the driver over and issue a citation.
For adults over the age of nineteen, a ticket can still be given for failure to wear a seatbelt, but only if the driver is pulled over for another reason. Drivers are responsible to make sure that all occupants sixteen or under are either in proper car seats, or wearing a seatbelt, and they can be issued a separate citation for each passenger. Although, in Utah, we realize that seatbelts and safety are extremely important, we also realize that if we are driving along and another driver smashes into us, we should not be barred from a full recovery just because we were not wearing a seatbelt at the time. Car Accidents can happen at any time and an innocent victim forgetting to wear a seatbelt does not make the bad-driver any less at fault for his actions. If you have been in a car wreck, contact a good attorney whether or not you were wearing a seatbelt at the time.
This article is offered only for general information and educational purposes. It is not offered as and does not constitute legal advice or legal opinion. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this article without first seeking the advice of an attorney.