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Does Failure to Use a Seat Belt Affect a Victim's Car Accident Claim?

There is overwhelming evidence that wearing seat belts saves lives. Virginia law requires that drivers and passengers who are 16 years of age or older must buckle up if they are sitting in the front seat. Anyone under 16 must wear a seatbelt or be secured in an appropriate infant or child safety seat whether they are in sitting in the front or back seat.

Violation of the seat belt law is a secondary enforcement law. This means that law enforcement cannot stop a driver just because of a seat belt violation. There must suspicion of a primary violation for the officer to make the stop, such as an expired inspection sticker or broken brake light. If the officer finds occupants who are required to not wearing their seatbelts, they can issue a violation.

 

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However, this only applies to drivers who are 18 years or older. For those drivers under 18, Virginia law considers this a primary offense and an officer can pull the driver over if they suspect they are not wearing their seat belt.

There are a few exceptions to the law:

  • Drivers and passengers in taxis
  • Rural mail carriers
  • Medical issues
  • Some municipal employees, such as sanitation workers
  • Law enforcement officers in certain situations

Virginia also has another law on the books - contributory negligence. This doctrine applies to liability in personal injury cases and is often used as a defense by an at-fault driver as a defense. In some car accidents, the victim may have some responsibility for the accident. In most states, the victim can still pursue for financial compensation for their losses, but the final settlement amount will be reduced by the percentage of fault it is determined the victim had in the crash.

But under the contributory negligence rule, if a car accident victim had any fault in the crash, Virginia law does not allow that victim to pursue a personal injury claim against the other driver. So, does this mean that if the victim was not wearing a seat belt, they are considered partially at fault for their injuries and cannot sue the driver who actually caused the crash?

The answer is no. In fact, Virginia’s seat belt statute specifically addresses this issue:

A violation of this section shall not constitute negligence, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence or be the subject of comment by counsel in any action for the recovery of damages arising out of the operation, ownership, or maintenance of a motor vehicle.

Contact a Va. Personal Injury Attorney

Although not wearing a seat belt will not legally affect your injury claim, wearing one could save your life and we urge everyone to buckle up when getting in their vehicle, no matter how close or how far your destination is.

If you have been injured in a car accident, contact a Virginia car accident attorney to find out what legal options you may have. The legal team at Shapiro & Appleton will work diligently to get you the best financial outcome based on the circumstances of your case. Call our office today for a free and confidential case evaluation.

Richard N. Shapiro
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Personal Injury & Wrongful Death Lawyer Serving Va Beach, Norfolk, Chesapeake & all of Virginia