| Read Time: 4 minutes | Car Accidents
car accident without seat belt

Wondering whether claims are payable when not wearing a seat belt while driving? This is one of the most common questions car accident lawyers get from potential clients.

While not wearing a seat belt doesn’t necessarily prevent you from filing an insurance claim, it can impact the outcome of your claim. The extent of the impact depends on a few factors such as: circumstances of the crash, your specific injuries, and the evidence presented by the defense. 

So, does not wearing a seat belt affect your insurance claim? Let’s review what impact it might have on your situation.

California’s Seat Belt Law

Under § 27315 of California’s Vehicle Code, a motorist not wearing a seat belt “does not establish negligence as a matter of law or negligence per se for comparative fault purposes.”

In other words, you aren’t barred from filing a claim if you were not wearing a seat belt, even if you received a ticket for it. However, the defense and their insurance company may still use it against you.

How the Defense May Argue to Lower Your Claim

When a car accident victim doesn’t wear a seat belt, the defense tries to take advantage of this fact to lower or dismiss the claim. There are several ways a defense team may introduce a seat belt defense. Here are some of the most frequent defenses used in this situation.

Comparative Fault

California follows a pure comparative negligence system for personal injury. This means plaintiffs may pursue a claim even if they are 99% at fault for the accident.

However, while this sounds generous, it may work against you if you aren’t wearing a seat belt. Under this same doctrine, the court usually lowers the compensation of your claim by your share of liability.

For example, let’s say your claim goes to court, and you demand $100,000 in compensation. During court, the defense proved that you weren’t wearing a seat belt and that it was the cause of most of your injuries. However, the responsibility for most of the accident rests with the defendant. The jury then decides you are 40% at fault for your injuries, reducing your maximum compensation to $60,000.

Remember, this is a simplified example of how the defense may use comparative fault to reduce your claim if you didn’t wear a seat belt.

Preventable Injuries

Let’s go even further. Instead of the lack of a seat belt causing most of your injuries, let’s say the defense proves that it caused all of your injuries. Although proving this is difficult, it may jeopardize your claim if proven.

If the jury finds you 70%, 80%, or even 99% responsible, your recovery will be negligible. 

Common Seat Belt FAQs

If you were in a car crash and were not wearing your seatbelt, you probably have many questions about what to expect. From insurance premiums to overall liability, here are some of the most common questions about being in an accident without a seatbelt.

Can Not Wearing a Seat Belt Cause an Accident? 

Not wearing a seat belt, in itself, does not cause an accident. However, it significantly increases the risk of injury or death in the event of an accident. This is especially true in accidents that generate enough force to eject the occupants from the vehicle. The only thing that keeps this from happening is a secure seat belt.

Is Not Wearing a Seat Belt a Liability? 

Yes. Not wearing a seat belt can be considered a liability in several contexts. Legally, it is a liability because it violates traffic laws in many jurisdictions, including California. Should an accident occur, not wearing a seat belt may also affect liability determinations and compensation claims.

For instance, if you don’t wear a seat belt during an accident, it might reduce the compensation available due to your share of fault in the severity of your injuries.

What Happens When Someone Doesn’t Wear a Seat Belt? 

Without the restraint provided by a seat belt, drivers are often ejected from the vehicle, colliding with parts of the vehicle’s interior, or hitting other passengers. This may lead to much more severe injuries or death. According to data from the National Safety Council, seat belts save around 85% of vehicle occupants who survive a severe accident.

Does a Seat Belt Violation Affect Insurance?

Yes. A seat belt violation often affects insurance in several ways. While the specifics vary, seat belt violations usually increase your insurance premium. Your insurer may see you as a risk since not wearing a seat belt can lead to severe injuries in accidents.

Does Not Wearing a Seat Belt Affect Your Insurance Claim as a Passenger?

If a passenger in your vehicle gets injured while not wearing a seat belt, you may be liable for their injuries in certain circumstances. Typically, the driver has a duty of care to their passengers to ensure their safety. While this situation is a little more complicated, it’s always best to insist your passengers wear seat belts. California requires all passengers 16 years or older to wear a seat belt.

Injured in an Accident in California? Our Attorneys Are Here to Answer Your Questions

At Peerali Law, we understand the days following an accident are overwhelming. Even if you weren’t wearing a seat belt, we recommend discussing your case with one of our attorneys.

Our boutique law firm in Los Angeles has years of experience handling complex car accident cases with a track record of success. Most importantly, we’re here to take on the legal burdens so you can focus on what’s most important—your recovery. Every client is family, so our attorneys work with clients one-on-one.

To schedule a free consultation, give us a call or fill out our contact form. We proudly serve clients in Los Angeles, Torrance, Pasadena, Long Beach, and Santa Clarita.

Author Photo

Kristopher earned his J.D. at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law where he was a member of the Review of Law and Social Justice honors law journal and was awarded several scholastic honors.

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