Last year a 20 year old man was injured in a serious accident on the 5 freeway in Burbank. It was reported that the injured driver was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the vehicle. If a passenger or driver of a vehicle is injured by another negligent driver they may seek compensation for their injuries even if the injured party was not wearing a seat belt. However, an insurance company defending a negligent driver will always try and avoid paying a full recovery for injuries suffered and will argue to an injured party or his accident attorney that injuries could have been diminished or avoided if the injured party had been wearing a seat belt. When injured in an accident it is always advisable to consult with an experienced accident attorney, especially where the injured party was not wearing a seat belt and injuries or the cause of a person’s injuries may be in dispute.
1. California Seat Belt Law
In California, whether you are a passenger or a driver in a vehicle, it is required that you wear a seat belt when driving. (See California Vehicle Code section 27315). If a party is injured in an auto accident, despite not wearing a seat belt, they still may bring a claim for personal injuries, including pain and suffering, against the negligent driver. California is not a contributory negligence state but rather a comparative fault state and has specifically codified that lack of a seat belt does not bar a claim for injury in California. (See California Vehicle Code 27315(i).)
However, if a party is required to take their case to trial, a jury will be allowed to consider what injuries could have been avoided if a seat belt was worn during the accident. As such, it is always important to consult with a knowledgeable personal injury attorney who can determine, often with the help of bio-mechanical and medical experts, if an injured party still has a viable claim for injuries given that a seat belt was not worn at the time of the accident.
Often times, passengers not wearing seat belts in the back or front of vehicles did not have easy access to a seat belt prior to an accident. If a negligent driver attempts to avoid paying for personal injuries by asserting a “seat belt defense” they have the burden to prove:
a. In exercise of normal or ordinary care the inured party should have used the available seat belt; and
b. What injuries or lack thereof the injured party would have suffered if they wore a seat belt at the time of the accident.
As indicated above, in order to prove that injuries would have been different but for the wearing of a seat belt, the negligent party will have to hire experts to prove that an injury would have been more likely than not different if a seat belt was worn by the injured party at the time of the accident. The requirement of experts to prove this element has been longstanding law in California. (See Truman v. Vargas (1969) 275 Cal.App.2d 976.) The battle of the experts on this issue is very important and one should always consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer to determine the likelihood of success for this type of injury claim whether your personal injury case occurred in Los Angeles, Lancaster, West Covina, Burbank, Downey or Costa Mesa.
2. Passenger Injured In A Vehicle Driven by a Negligent Driver
Sometimes a passenger in a vehicle is injured when the driver of the same vehicle negligently operates a vehicle and causes an accident. If the passenger is not wearing a seat belt they may have to face a seat belt defense. However, it should be noted that the driver of such a vehicle may also be in violation of the law by allowing a passenger to occupy the vehicle while driving without wearing a seat belt. California Vehicle Code section 27315 states that no driver of a vehicle shall operate a motor vehicle unless the driver and all passengers are properly restrained by a safety belt.
When injured in a car accident whether you are wearing a safety belt or not, you may be entitled to compensation for your personal injuries under California Law. As such, it is imperative that a person injured in an auto accident consult with an accident attorney as early as possible.