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I Was NOT Wearing My Seat Belt. Does That Impact My Alabama Personal Injury Claim?

Blackwell Law Firm -- Huntsville Accident & Injury LawyersMost of the people who call us about car accident injury claims were wearing their seat belt when the crash occurred. Most, but not all. Some people do call after a wreck where they were not wearing a seat belt. One of the first questions they ask — Does that impact my personal injury claim?

I’m happy to discuss the question. But, I still want to start with a discussion of safety. Seat belts clearly save lives!

SEAT BELTS SAVE LIVES!

We’ve all heard it. It’s common-sense. Yet, some people still refuse to wear their safety belts. According to 2018 data from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), the national seat belt use rate is 89.6%. That means just over 10% of the people in cars still do not use seat belts despite years of safety education.

Want to understand the tremendous safety advantage of seat belts? Here’s a quick safety statistic from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) —

  • A total of 23,714 drivers and passengers in cars died in motor vehicle crashes in 2016.
  • More than half (53%-62%) of teens (13-19 years old) and young adults (20-44 years old) were NOT buckled up at the time of the fatal crash.

Think about that. While only 10% of car passengers fail to use safety belts, they account for over half of all fatalities. Seat belts clearly prevent needless traffic deaths.

DOES SEAT BELT USAGE IMPACT MY INJURY CLAIM?

Now that I’ve given my safety speech, I’ll address the question. Does seat belt usage impact my injury claim. More precisely — I was not wearing my seat belt. Can the insurance company deny my injury claim because of that? You really want to know whether or not the insurance company can use the failure to wear safety belts as a reason to DENY or REDUCE your injury claim.

The short answer is, NO. For years, Alabama law has required the front seat occupants in a car to wear seat belts. (Alabama Code Section 32-5B-4). Starting September 1, Alabama law will also now require back seat passengers to wear seat belts.

Although passengers are required to wear seat belts, another section of Alabama law prohibits this issue from being used as proof of contributory negligence against you. (Alabama Code Section 32-5B-7). Alabama follows the doctrine of contributory negligence which means if you are even partially at fault, you cannot recover damages. Our law prohibits the other side from arguing fault based on a failure to wear safety belts. So, if you fail to wear your seat belt and suffer an injury, the insurance companies cannot deny your claim by arguing you were also negligent.

Although Alabama law is pretty clear, we still occasionally hear adjusters try to argue the lack of seat belt use. I’m curious to know how many billboard lawyers fall for that argument and settle their cases too low. In cases where an adjuster (often a regional adjuster with claims in multiple states having different laws) makes such an argument, you may have to file your case.

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At the Blackwell Law Firm, we help accident and injury victims in Alabama. From our office in Huntsville, we represent clients across Alabama in car and commercial truck injury cases