Seatbelts and Car Accident Lawsuits
“Do I Still Have a Car Accident Claim if I Wasn’t Wearing a Seatbelt?”
If you sustained serious injuries in a car accident in North Carolina that was not your fault, you may be concerned about how it could affect your case if you were not wearing your seatbelt at the time of the crash. Although failing to wear a seatbelt can cause more serious injuries, the good news is that it will not make an innocent car accident victim responsible for injuries caused by a negligent driver.
In North Carolina, the insurance company cannot refuse to compensate for your injuries just because you did not wear a seat belt. The reasoning behind this rule is that a victim’s failure to buckle up played no role in causing the crash – it was the other driver’s negligence that caused your car accident injuries.
North Carolina law entitles you to recover full compensation for all your damages, even if you were not wearing a seatbelt. However, insurance companies and their attorneys will often try to shift the blame if they discover that you were not wearing your seatbelt at the time of the accident. They may imply that you deserve less compensation because you were somehow responsible for your injuries, or that it is not their insured’s fault that your injuries are more severe since you were not wearing a seatbelt.
At Riddle & Brantley our attorneys are prepared to stand up to the insurance companies who try to shift the blame to our clients. We have a record of success with car accident claims against big insurance companies who attempt to shirk their duty to pay car accident victims fair compensation. We are proud to serve car accidents victims throughout the state. Our team is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our car accident attorneys are available to meet at any of our convenient office locations, and our team of experienced field investigators can even meet you at home to answer your questions.
Are Seat Belts Required in North Carolina?
Buckling up is mandatory for occupants in both the front and back seats of passenger vehicles under North Carolina law. The law applies to all passenger vehicles with a maximum occupancy of fewer than 11 passengers that are required by federal law to be equipped with seatbelts. This covers most cars built after 1967 and most light trucks and vans built after 1971.
However, you should always wear a safety belt, even when traveling in a state that has no seatbelt laws.
There is no question that seatbelts save lives.
In 2020, more than half of vehicle occupants who died in crashes were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of impact. In fact, seatbelts have saved an estimated 374,276 lives in the U.S. since 1975, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). Wearing a seatbelt can reduce the risk of dying in a car crash by 45 percent, and cut the risk of suffering a moderate to critical injury by 50 percent, the NHTSA reports.
“What Happens to My Claim if I Wasn’t Wearing a Seatbelt in a Car Accident?”
Despite the clear safety advantages and laws that require buckling up, some motorists choose not to wear a seatbelt, while others inadvertently forget to put one on. Some passengers may incorrectly believe that buckling up is unnecessary when riding in the back seat or making short trips.
Whatever the reason, car accident victims are sometimes not properly belted at the time of a crash. The at-fault driver’s insurance company may discover this during an investigation of the crash, or a driver or passenger may be ticketed for failure to wear a safety belt by the responding officer. If so, the insurer may argue that the victim’s car accident injuries were more severe because he or she was not belted or that the victim failed to mitigate their injuries by not wearing a seatbelt.
The insurance adjuster may use this reasoning to try to pay as little as possible on the claim. As a result, the insurer may argue that it should not have to pay for all the unbelted victim’s injuries, or it may deny the car accident claim altogether.
Although the insurance company may try to fight the claim using these arguments, an experienced NC car accident attorney will be able to negotiate on your behalf to hold the insurance company accountable. Liability for a car accident depends on what a motorist negligently did – or did not do – to cause the crash.
Whether an accident victim was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash plays no role in the actual cause of the accident. Therefore, the at-fault driver is liable for all damages, regardless of whether your injuries would have been less severe if you had been wearing a seat belt, as long as you were not at fault for the collision.
North Carolina Law Prohibits Insurance Companies from Raising a “Seatbelt Defense”
North Carolina forbids defendants from raising the so-called “seatbelt defense”. In fact, our state’s statutes exclude any evidence regarding seatbelt use. The applicable law, Section 20-135.2A(d), states that: “Evidence of failure to wear a seat belt shall not be admissible in any criminal or civil trial, action, or proceeding.” This means that the defendant cannot use the victim’s failure to wear a seatbelt as a reason to deny liability in a car accident claim.
In short, the at-fault driver’s insurance company must pay full compensation for all injuries. This is true even if you were not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.
Costs Associated with Not Wearing a Seatbelt
However, even if you were not at fault for causing the accident or your injuries, you may still receive a ticket for your or your passenger’s failure to not wear a seatbelt. In North Carolina, a driver or front seat passenger may be subject to a fine of $25.50 plus court costs if they are ticketed for not wearing a seatbelt. District court costs are $147.50 and superior court costs are $154.50, plus other fees. A back seat passenger is subject to a fine of $10 and no additional court costs.
A Secondary Offense
However, in NC, not wearing a seatbelt in the back seat is considered a secondary offense. This means that an officer cannot use an unbelted backseat passenger alone as probable cause for a traffic stop.
Injured in a “No Seatbelt” Accident?
If you suffered serious injuries in a car crash that was someone else’s fault, you still deserve fair compensation. The insurance company should not try to limit your financial recovery just because you were not buckled up. The simple fact is that if a negligent driver had not caused the accident, you would not have suffered any injuries, regardless of seatbelt use. If you have been seriously injured in a car accident and failed to wear a seatbelt, you need a auto accident lawyer who can stand up to the insurance companies and protect your right to full compensation.
Remember, under NC law, failing to wear a seatbelt cannot affect your ability to seek full compensation for your injuries or pain and suffering if you were not at fault for causing the accident. This is true even if you receive a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. Although the insurance company may try to use your lack of wearing a seatbelt to deny the claim or minimize the amount of compensation you deserve, the experienced personal injury attorneys at Riddle & Brantley know how to stand up to the insurance companies to fight for your right to financial compensation.
At Riddle & Brantley, our personal injury attorneys have more than 220 years of combined legal experience. We believe Justice Counts, and we have the dedication and commitment to fight for justice on behalf of car accident victims. Justice demands full compensation for the victim of another driver’s negligence – even if the victim was not wearing a seatbelt.
Call Today for a Free Consultation
Our car accident attorneys combine our skill in handling personal injury and wrongful death cases with the experience of our team of investigators, including retired NC state troopers, and expert accident reconstructionists. Together, our team works together to build a strong and persuasive case. We know what a fair and just recovery is, and we are ready to use our extensive resources to help you obtain it.
For a free claim review and advice about your rights and options, call or fill out our online contact form. We serve clients across the entire state of North Carolina. Remember, if you can’t come to us, we can come to you, whether you’re at home, in the hospital, or at a doctor’s appointment. Our attorneys are available for consultations by phone, text, email, and video conference as well.