Can I recover damages if I wasn’t wearing a seat belt at the time of my car accident?

seat_beltThis is one of the most common questions our firm receives from potential clients, and for good reason. After a car crash, accident victims can end up in dire financial straits due to unexpected medical bills and property repair or replacement costs.

While a monetary award from a successful personal injury claim or lawsuit could theoretically lessen financial burdens, some accident victims are reluctant to take legal action if they think something they did—such as not wearing a seat belt—could affect their ability to recover damages.

The good news is that while failing to wear a seat belt might affect a car accident insurance claim or lawsuit, it doesn't prevent crash victims from receiving compensation for medical bills and other losses.

Texas Seat Belt Laws

Since 2009, Texas state law requires all vehicle occupants to wear the appropriate safety restraint: seat belts for adults, and car seats or booster seats for children. Motorists who fail to comply can face fines ranging from $25 to $250, plus court costs, according to the Texas Department of Transportation.

Seat Belt Use and Modified Comparative Negligence

There are 33 states in the U.S. that apply the rules of modified comparative negligence to car accident and other personal injury cases, and Texas is one of them. This means that victims who are injured or sustain losses in car accidents can still potentially recover compensation, as long as they were not 51 percent or more responsible for the crash.

The state made seat belt evidence admissible in personal injury cases in 2015, but that doesn't mean that crash victims who weren't wearing their seat belts are out of luck when it comes to receiving compensation. For example, a motorist who wasn't wearing a seat belt will usually be viewed less at fault than one who runs a red light and hits another vehicle.

Accident and Seat Belt Use Statistics

  • The national seat belt use rate is 90.1 percent, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
  • Seat belt use in the United States increased from 70.7 percent in 2000 to 90.1 percent in 2016.
  • Nearly 27.5 million Americans don't wear seat belts.
  • Seat belts saved nearly 14,000 lives in 2015 alone; another 2,814 could have been saved if accident victims had worn seat belts.
  • In 2015, 48 percent of car accidents fatalities indicated victims weren't wearing seat belts at the time of wreck.
  • Wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of fatal injury by 45 percent for car occupants and by 60 percent for pickup truck occupants.
  • According to NHTSA, seat belts have saved more than 344,400 lives since the agency began collecting seat belt use data in 1975.
  • Fifty-eight percent of people 18–to–34 who were killed in crashes in 2015 weren't buckled-in.
  • Seat belts saved enough lives to fill a stadium—nearly 64,000 people—from 2001 to 2015.
  • Young people between the ages of 18 and 24 are less likely to wear seat belts than drivers 26 and older.
  • Women are more likely than men to wear seat belts.

Do You Need a Car Accident Attorney?

If you were injured in an accident, don't let the fact that you weren't wearing your seat belt stop you from seeking the financial recovery you need and deserve. McGartland Law's award-winning car accident attorneys know the ins and outs of Texas's seat belt and modified comparative negligence laws, and can help you understand how they apply to your case.

Contact McGartland Law today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation to discuss your case with a legal professional.