While the dangers of not wearing a seat belt are well known, not everyone buckles up every time they get into vehicles. In some cases, an accident victim’s injuries in a collision may be more serious if he wasn't wearing a seat belt. This can complicate an injuries compensation claim if another driver was the negligent party.
What Is the Seat Belt Defense?
The seat belt defense is used to declare that a victim who fails to wear a seat belt is partially responsible for causing his own injuries. This defense can apply to both drivers’ and passengers’ claims for compensation. Insurance companies use this defense to argue that a person’s damages should be reduced as a result. Throughout the country, approximately 30 states don't permit this defense, while 15 states allow it in some form.
There are two legal theories associated with this defense:
Each state has its own comparative negligence laws. But the general theory is that if a car accident victim was partially negligent in causing his accident, his compensation should be reduced by his percentage of fault in causing his injuries. For example, if a person was 20 percent to blame and his damages were $200,000, he would be entitled to $160,000 in compensation from the negligent driver.
Mitigation of Damages
Injured accident victims have a duty to attempt to reduce their damages. The failure to wear a seat belt could be considered a failure to mitigate damages that would justify the reduction in a person’s compensation.
The law on the use of the seat belt defense is different in Missouri and Kansas.
Is the Seat Belt Defense Allowed in Missouri?
In Missouri, the seat belt defense is recognized but in a limited fashion. An insurance company is permitted to raise the seat belt defense to attempt to reduce a victim’s right to compensation. However, only one percent of fault can be attributed to the failure to wear a seat belt. The judge is required to instruct the jury that it can only reduce the compensation awarded by this percentage, if applicable.
Can the Seat Belt Defense Be Used in Kansas?
In Kansas, all individuals over 14 must wear a seat belt, but there isn't a seat belt defense. This means an insurance company cannot use your failure to use a seat belt as a way to reduce the amount of compensation you receive if another driver caused you to suffer serious injuries.
How an Experienced Car Accident Attorney Can Help
If your failure to wear a seat belt will be an issue in your case, it's essential to retain an experienced car accident attorney as soon as possible.
If your crash happened in Kansas, you legal counsel will remind the jury that evidence pertaining to whether you wore a seat belt at the time of the accident is inadmissible.
If your collision occurred in Missouri, your lawyer has strategies to defeat or limit this defense. For example, the fact that you weren't wearing a seat belt doesn't automatically make this defense applicable. The insurance company has to prove the lack of it caused your injuries. In addition, your attorney can also ensure that this defense only reduces your claim by one percent at most—not a significant sum.
The most important thing is that you are honest with your legal representative about whether or not your seat belt was on. If you don't, this can reduce your credibility as a witness and be used by the insurance company to raise other arguments as to why your claim should be denied or your settlement reduced.
Were you or a loved one injured in a car accident in Kansas or Missouri that wasn't your fault? Our skilled car accident attorneys will rally for the compensation you deserve. We have decades of experience fighting against the seat belt and other defenses raised by insurance companies. Learn about your options during a free initial consultation. Contact us online or call our office directly at 816.471.5111 today.