How Failing To Wear Your Seat Belt Can Affect Your Greenville Car Wreck Case

Wearing a seat belt can be the key to avoiding serious injuries when a person is involved in a serious car accident.  Studies have shown that seat belts are the most effective way to reduce injuries and save lives in a car crash, for adults and children old enough to use a seatbelt.  Although seat belts may cause some injuries if not properly worn or minor bruising if worn properly, they are still effective in protecting drivers and passengers from more serious injuries.   Seat belts can prevent ejection from the car, collision with other passengers, and hitting the dashboard and other parts of the car in the event of a head on or side impact collision.  Being ejected from a car during a collision, whether partially or totally, can lead to serious injury, paralysis, or death.  While some people prefer to rely on airbags to protect them in a car accident, seat belts should be considered the primary form of injury prevention, with a combined reliance on seat belts and airbags being the best approach.


Seat belt laws across the county authorize the levying of fines on drivers, and sometimes passengers, if they are caught driving or riding in a car without properly using their seat belts.  South Carolina is no exception, and requires drivers and passengers to wear a seat belt while a car is in operation, except for limited exceptions.  A driver can be fined if passengers in his car who are under the age of 17 are not buckled up.  The fine is minor, usually ranging from $25 to $50, and does not result in a criminal conviction or go on a driver’s record.  These penalties are sometimes criticized as being ineffective in encouraging seat belt use because they are too weak.  In a South Carolina civil case involving personal injury after a car accident, a person’s failure to wear a seat belt at the time of a car accident does not affect his case as negatively as may be expected.


Partial Recovery for Injuries

Seat belt use can come up in a personal injury case if a defendant wants to argue for a reduction of the compensation due to an injured person based on their failure to wear a seat belt.  Under South Carolina law, a plaintiff who suffered injuries in a car accident can receive compensation for injuries as long as his fault in causing the accident is not determined to be more than 50 percent.  This is known as modified comparative negligence.  Under comparative negligence, the plaintiff’s compensation in a case is reduced by the percentage fault for causing the accident a court attributes to the plaintiff after hearing the facts.


For example, if a driver is speeding and runs a red light at an intersection, and is hit by another car that is making an illegal turn at the intersection, both drivers could be said to have caused the accident to some degree.  If one of the drivers sues the other seeking compensation for injuries sustained in the accident, the court would look at each party’s actions that may have caused the accident, and decide each party’s percentage fault of negligence and award damages according to that number.  Basically the court is trying to determine who was more responsible for the accident than the other, and make that person compensate the other driver.  If the driver who ran the red light is the plaintiff and is found to have been 60 percent at fault, then he cannot receive any compensation for his injuries.  If the same driver is found to be 30 percent at fault for the accident, he can receive 70 percent compensation for his injuries.


So if a defendant can show that a plaintiff’s injuries were caused or aggravated because the plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, does that mean that the plaintiff’s compensation will be reduced based on this fact alone under South Carolina’s approach to comparative negligence?


Evidence of No Seat Belt Inadmissible

If an injured plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, a defendant could argue that the plaintiff should receive less money because if he was wearing a seat belt, he would not have been hurt as much he was.  However, in some jurisdictions, including South Carolina, this so called “seat belt defense” is not allowed.  In South Carolina this is in part because the law requiring drivers and passengers to wear seat belts also includes language that prohibits the use, in civil cases, of evidence that an injured person was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident.  Therefore, the defendant cannot rely on the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt to reduce the amount owed for the plaintiff’s injuries.  Even under a comparative negligence theory, a plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt is not likely to be considered a contributing cause of the accident, and therefore, should not count against the plaintiff in terms of recovery for his injuries.


Consult Us Before You Settle

Despite the law’s clear instruction that evidence that a plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt should not be introduced in a civil case, there are other legal theories that a defendant may try to use to reduce a plaintiff’s compensation for not wearing a seat belt at the time of a car accident.  Sometimes these theories are used to try and get the plaintiff to agree to a settlement before the case can go to court.


You should not let the fact that you were not wearing your seat belt at the time of an accident be used by another driver’s attorney or insurance company to reduce a proposed settlement or scare you into a settlement that does not benefit you.  Before you agree to a settlement after a car accident, you should always consult with your own personal injury attorney to discuss your options and what a reasonable settlement would be for your injuries and losses.  For more information on how an skilled Greenville car accident attorney can help you, contact the Greenville, South Carolina firm Bryan Ramey & Associates for a FREE consultation.