One man lost his life and a second suffered critical injuries when the car they were riding in ran off the highway through Virginia's Eastern Shore on the night of December 9, 2015. The victims were backseat passengers, and their car collided with a culvert in the median of U.S. 13 near the community of Parksley.
According to WVEC 13, the driver of the car was speeding and under the influence of alcohol when he lost control shortly after passing the turnoff to Tyler Lane. Police have filed preliminary DUI and manslaughter charges against the driver. A third passenger also sustained injuries.
News reports note that none of the passengers were wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash and that the man who died had been ejected from the vehicle. This could serve as an important safety reminder for viewers and readers, but the failure to buckle up should not affect the victims' ability to file and collect on claims against the at-fault driver.
While Virginia law requires all adults to use seatbelts in moving vehicles, that statute and a large body of civil court decisions make clear that riding unbuckled does not constitute contributory negligence. A personal injury or wrongful death claim does not become invalid just because the hurt or killed person did not put on his or her seatbelt.
Drunk driving always puts people's lives in danger. Failing to put on one's seatbelt can also be risky, but the recklessness of drunk driving should not be excused by that less-serious oversight.