- Personal Injury
- Vehicle Accidents
- Other Practice Areas
- Client Victories
- Why Refer?
- Our Firm
- Contact Us
Most states have passed seat belt laws requiring their use. Alabama is no exception.
It is well-known that seat belts are important for vehicle safety. But let us say you decided not to wear your seatbelt, or maybe you forgot to put it on and got into an accident. Can you still file with your insurance or file a lawsuit against the other driver?
Failing to wear your seat belt could impact the outcome of your case. It is important to know what you could be up against. To put yourself in the best position to recover damages, it’s important to seek advice from a trusted accident attorney.
The short answer is “yes,” you can still pursue a claim and seek damages.
In answering this question, it is important to understand the difference between filing your claim and proving your damages.
The ability to file a claim depends, in part, on whether you have suffered an injury. There is no law in Alabama stating that someone not wearing a seat belt at the time of their accident cannot file a claim with their insurance company or in court.
To win an accident lawsuit, you must prove that the other side was negligent.
There are four things to prove to win a negligence claim:
On the one hand, if you were not wearing a seat belt, the other side might say you cannot prove “causation” or “damages.” In other words, the party responsible for the accident will say the injuries would not have happened had you been wearing a seat belt, or your harm was the result of not wearing a seat belt.
On the other hand, the other side might try to raise the legal defense of “contributory negligence.” You could prove the other side was negligent and responsible, but they would walk away without paying damages.
Most states use “comparative negligence” for injury claims, which distributes fault and holds the person the most responsible for at least a portion of the victim’s harm. Comparative negligence looks at the several factors that caused an injury and distributes responsibility to each party.
However, Alabama’s “contributory negligence” doctrine is different. No compensation may be awarded if the victim shares some of the blame for an accident. Even if the victim were only, say 5% responsible, and the other side shouldered 95% of the blame, the victim would recover nothing. This makes it an uphill battle.
Even if the other side was negligent, they could evade responsibility by pinning at least some of the blame on you. Luckily, the contributory negligence law has an exception regarding the lack of seat belt wearing.
In Alabama, where contributory negligence is at play, it is still possible to recover damages if you were not wearing a seat belt. There are a few ways this could play out.
There are legitimate legal maneuvers an experienced attorney can use to make sure this information is not revealed. Although vehicle occupants are required to wear seat belts, Alabama law generally prevents the other side from using that information as proof of contributory negligence against you.
The law states, failing to wear a seat belt “shall not be considered evidence of contributory negligence.”
However, this is not a guarantee that it will not come up, especially in negotiations. Not all attorneys know the law; some will try to test the other side to see if they know it. Others will try to use it as evidence of something other than contributory negligence.
The law also does not guarantee winning your case if you were not wearing a seat belt. There are still other ways the other side can try to argue contributory negligence. For example, they might say that you were engaged in distracted driving.
However, if the law is not followed and the information does come out in court, your lawyer can argue that you are not wearing a seat belt does not fit the legal definition of “negligence.” If there was no contributory negligence, you might succeed in your claim.
Again, if it does come out in court that you were not wearing your seat belt, your lawyer can argue that the responsible party engaged in “wanton behavior.” This is defined as acting “with a conscious disregard of the rights or safety of others.” If the other side purposefully engaged in highly risky behavior, you might still be able to recover.
For example, if you were injured by someone who knew they were very drunk when they sped home, you may still be able to recover damages if you did not wear a seat belt.
Another lawyer or the jury cannot use the fact that you were not wearing a seat belt as evidence of contributory negligence. But what about the insurance company?
The law also states that failing to wear a seat belt “shall not limit the liability of an insurer.” The insurance company cannot offer you a smaller settlement because you did not wear a seatbelt. However, some adjusters working regionally across multiple states might not know Alabama’s specific law. They might also try to take advantage of you.
If the claims adjuster brings it up, say nothing and consult with an attorney.
Although Alabama law is clear, not wearing a seat belt can still come up in a claim. If you were involved in a car wreck and were not wearing a seat belt, you need a skilled lawyer to help you succeed. Contributory negligence can come up in other ways, and you need to be prepared.
Without the professional assistance of an attorney, you could lose your right to compensation and face expenses you would not otherwise need to pay. The sooner you get a lawyer involved, the better because your attorney can handle negotiations and make sure you do not say something inadvertently that harms your case.
Contact an experienced Alabama accident attorney to figure out how to handle contributory negligence arguments in your case. Caldwell Wenzel Asthana Injury Lawyers have seen car accident claims play out in many ways. Their years of experience can give you a leg up. Call today: (251) 444-7000.