You're driving home after a long day of work. Out of nowhere, the SUV next to you swerves into your lane and plows into the side of your car, forcing you to spin out into the shoulder. Your car is totaled, and you've suffered a broken arm as well as neck and spinal injuries.
However, you weren't wearing your seat belt. Do you still have a case against the other driver?
New York seat belt law
Under New York law, anyone sitting in the front seat of a motor vehicle must wear a seat belt at all times while the vehicle is operating. In addition, any child under the age of 16 must always wear a seat belt, regardless of where in the vehicle that child is seated. Furthermore, any child under the age of eight must ride in a child restraint system, and any child under four must ride in a child safety seat.
Does failing to wear a seat belt affect liability?
By neglecting to wear a seat belt, you're in violation of traffic law. In addition, the injuries you suffered in the accident were likely greater due to this negligence. This scenario leads us to what is known as the "seat belt defense."
The seat belt defense is only allowed in 15 states across the United States, and New York is among them. If the defendant in a car accident is able to use this defense effectively, it can reduce their liability in your accident claim. Under this defense, the court with the aid of expert testimony can figure out what the damages in the accident would have been if you had properly fastened your seat belt. You are then only able to recover compensation for those damages.
The seat belt defense can throw a wrench in a personal injury claim. If you've been injured in a car accident while your seat belt was unfastened, it's important to consult with an experienced personal injury attorney who can strategically counter the seat belt defense.