If you are a victim of a car accident in Virginia, and if you were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the collision, you might be wondering whether you have the right to pursue legal action against the at-fault party.
It is a valid question, considering the fact that Virginia follows the doctrine of pure contributory negligence, which prohibits you from recovering financial restitution for your injuries if you are found at fault – even to a small extent – for the accident.
Fortunately, under Virginia law, not wearing a seat belt is not considered a negligent act. So, whether or not you were wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident is irrelevant to your claim against the at-fault party.
Seatbelt Laws in Virginia
Under Virginia law, wearing a seat belt is mandatory for the following people.
- Passengers who occupy the front seat of a vehicle
- Passengers under the age of 18 – irrespective of where they sit in the vehicle
Virginia follows the ‘secondary enforcement’ policy when it comes to seat belts. What it means is that police officers cannot pull over someone and issue a ticket for a seat belt violation. On the other hand, if they pull over someone for any other traffic violation, and notice that the driver or the occupants of the vehicle are not wearing a seat belt, they can issue a ticket for the primary violation (for which the driver in question was pulled over in the first place) as well as the secondary violation (not wearing a seat belt).
The law also makes it clear that not wearing a seat belt does not constitute negligence and cannot be held against victims who seek damages for their injuries. So, the at-fault party cannot accuse you of being negligent in your own right for not wearing a seat belt.
It should be noted that tort laws are designed to prevent people from driving negligently and impose financial costs on those who injure others due to their negligent driving. The underlying idea is to make negligent drivers take responsibility for their actions, rather than blaming and punishing the victims for not taking sufficient precautions to protect themselves. So, the law grants you the right to sue the negligent driver who injured you – regardless of whether you were wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident or not.
Why You Should Always Buckle Up
Even though not wearing a seat belt is not considered a primary traffic offense in Virginia, you should never, ever drive or ride in a vehicle without wearing a seat belt – for your own safety.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that wearing a seat belt can reduce the risk of fatal injuries (in the event of an accident) by nearly 50%.
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) shows that in 2017, the total number of people killed in automobile accidents was 37,133 – of which nearly 47% were not wearing a seat belt. In other words, wearing a seat belt could have reduced the crash-related fatality rate in the country by half.
Many people mistakenly believe that frontal and side-impact air bags can protect them in the event of a crash – even if they are not wearing a seat belt. This is not true, as air bags are only meant to provide supplemental protection and should be used in conjunction with seat belts.
In fact, getting forcefully thrown into an air bag – which is what will happen if you are not wearing a seat belt during a collision – can actually result in serious injuries. Simply put, by choosing not to wear a seat belt, you are unnecessarily putting yourself in harm’s way.
Importance of Choosing an Experienced Virginia Car Accident Attorney
Despite the fact that the at-fault party cannot blame you for not wearing a seat belt, they might still try to argue that you failed to exercise due care and your injuries were caused partly as a result of your own negligence. If they manage to establish contributory negligence on your part, you cannot get any compensation for your injuries.
This is why it is critical to choose an experienced attorney who can not only establish the at-fault party’s culpability, but also refute their claims of contributory negligence on your part and recover the monetary damages you are owed.
Choose the Right Virginia Car Accident Attorney to Represent You
At Shapiro, Appleton, & Washburn, we know that insurance companies will do everything they can to blame you for your own injuries. It is why we go to great lengths to build a watertight case against at-fault parties, negotiate with them from a position of strength, and fight hard to recover every single dollar you are owed.
We work on a contingency basis, so you do not have to pay us a cent until we win your case and get the settlement you deserve. Call us today at 800-752-0042 or contact us online for a free review of your case.