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Can I Still Sue After Not Wearing a Seatbelt?

Car safety concept. Passenger sitting in car seat and wearing seat belt.

If you were seriously injured in a car accident caused by another driver, you have the right to seek compensation. You may have heard, however, that you can only win if you were doing everything right. If you weren’t wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, can you even sue at all?

While not wearing a seatbelt can affect your claim, the fact that you were not following every safety rule to the letter does not mean you cannot recover compensation. Read on to learn about how not wearing a seatbelt can affect your car accident recovery, and call a dedicated Kingston traffic accident lawyer for advice and representation after a Hudson Valley crash.

New York Law Requires Seat Belts

New York’s traffic laws require drivers and anyone over the age of 16 in the front seat to wear a seat belt while a vehicle is in use. Children under the age of 16 must be secured by an age-appropriate restraint, whether that means a seat belt, a booster seat, or a child safety seat. Drivers with unsecured passengers or who are driving without a seatbelt themselves can incur heavy fines if pulled over by the police.

The Comparative Negligence Rule

Any personal injury claim can be offset by what is known as “comparative negligence.” If an accident victim was partially to blame for their injuries, then their total available damages can be reduced by their portion of fault.

For example, let’s say Driver A runs through a red light and collides with Driver B. Driver B is seriously hurt and suffers $10,000 in personal injury damages. Driver B, however, was texting at the time–they might have avoided the crash if they’d been paying closer attention. The judge or jury decides that Driver B was 20% to blame for the accident because they were texting. Driver B’s recovery will be reduced by 20%–down to $8,000.

New York follows a “pure comparative negligence” rule, meaning plaintiffs can sue to recover even if they were mostly at fault. If Driver A in the example above suffered $100,000 in the accident, they could recover $100,000 less 80% from Driver B–meaning $20,000. If the parties sued each other, Driver A would walk away with more than Driver B, even though Driver A was more at fault.

New York’s Seat Belt Defense

Comparative negligence also factors in when a plaintiff’s own negligence exacerbates their damages. New York, in fact, has a law specifically addressing seat belts. If it is proven that an accident victim was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, the victim’s damages can be significantly reduced.

Insurance claims adjusters and the at-fault driver can use the plaintiff’s lack of a seatbelt to offset the plaintiff’s damages by analyzing what would have happened if they had been wearing a seatbelt. The defendants can utilize doctors, engineers, accident reconstruction specialists, and other experts to demonstrate that, had the plaintiff been wearing a seatbelt, they would have suffered much less severe injuries. If proven to the satisfaction of the court, the plaintiff’s damages can be severely reduced.

However, not wearing a seatbelt does not mean the plaintiff cannot sue, and it does not mean they’ll get nothing if they do. The plaintiff can present their own evidence showing that they would have suffered serious injury regardless of whether they were wearing a seatbelt.

Talk to an experienced car crash injury lawyer to discuss your case. You might still have a significant claim for damages, even if you weren’t wearing a seat belt at the time of your accident.

Dedicated and Comprehensive Legal Assistance With a Hudson Valley Car Accident Claim

If you or someone you love has been hurt by a negligent or reckless driver in New York, find out if you’re entitled to monetary damages for your injuries by contacting the diligent and effective Hudson Valley car accident lawyers at Rusk, Wadlin, Heppner & Martuscello, LLP for a free consultation at 845-331-4100 (Kingston) or 845-236-4411 (Marlboro).

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