Although wearing a seat belt is a legal requirement for all drivers and passengers in Texas, it is common for people not to buckle up on every ride. If you get into a car accident while you weren’t wearing a seat belt, however, it could negatively impact your personal injury claim. The Texas courts allow defendants to use the seat belt defense, meaning that your failure to wear a seat belt could diminish your financial recovery.
The seat belt defense is an attempt by a defendant in a car accident claim to reduce or avoid liability for the plaintiff’s injuries and losses. The defendant in a car accident case is the driver or party allegedly at fault for causing the collision, while the plaintiff is the injured party. In the past, the Texas courts ruled the seat belt offense inadmissible. The Supreme Court of Texas changed the rules, however, in a 2015 ruling.
If a defendant’s attorney uses the seat belt defense, the attorney is claiming that the defendant should not bear 100 percent liability for the plaintiff’s injuries due to the fact that the plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the collision. You may encounter the seat belt defense during a car insurance settlement, typically at the conclusion of the crash investigation. At this stage, the insurance claims adjuster may try to reduce your settlement based on the argument that you were not wearing a seat belt.
You or your Dallas car accident attorney may be able to negotiate a better deal, or else you will need to take the matter to court. In general, the seat belt defense will only be a valid argument if the defendant can prove that your injuries would have been prevented or reduced had you been wearing a seat belt. If the seat belt defense succeeds, it could diminish your financial recovery.
Texas currently abides by what is known as a modified comparative negligence law. This law allows a plaintiff to recover compensation even if he or she is partially at fault for an accident. It is the opposite of a contributory negligence law, which holds that a plaintiff cannot recover any financial compensation if he or she is even 1 percent responsible for an accident.
Under Texas’ comparative negligence law, you can still recover a monetary award even if you were not wearing a seat belt in a car accident and this contributed to the extent of your injuries. However, your settlement or verdict will be reduced by the amount that you contributed to your injuries by failing to wear a seat belt.
For example, if you are found to be 15 percent responsible for an injury because you were not wearing a seatbelt, the defendant will be found 15 percent less liable for your losses. In this example, the courts would reduce your judgment by 15 percent. A $40,000 award would be reduced to $34,000, for instance, due to your comparative fault.
The “modified” part of Texas’ comparative negligence law caps your ability to recover financial compensation for a car accident at 50 percent of fault for the crash or your injuries. If your actions make you more than 50 percent liable, therefore, you would not be eligible for any financial compensation. Since failing to wear a seat belt does not cause a car accident, however, it is unlikely that you would be found more than 50 percent at fault for your injuries in this scenario.
It is important to consult with a personal injury attorney if you were not wearing a seat belt at the time of your car accident in Dallas. An attorney can help you protect your rights throughout the claims process, including during an insurance claim or injury lawsuit. An attorney will help you combat the seat belt defense and minimize your amount of comparative fault for the best possible financial outcome.