Connecticut requires that all motorists wear a seat belt. This rule makes sense. Research has shown that seat belts reduce the risk of injury and death, and putting on a belt is second-nature after you do it a few times. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts reduced the number of traffic fatalities by 15,000 in 2016. If everyone wore a seatbelt, an additional 10,000 lives would be saved.
Although wearing a seatbelt is the law in Connecticut, a question arises in car accident cases when a victim didn’t have their belt on. Can the defendant raise this “seat belt defense”? As our Glastonbury car accident lawyer describes below, the answer is a surprising “no.”
What is the Seat Belt Defense?
Connecticut recognizes comparative fault. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572h states that a personal injury victim cannot bring a lawsuit if they were more at fault for their injuries than the defendant. The law also states that, even if they are less than 50% to blame, their compensation is reduced by their proportion of fault.
Given that Connecticut requires seat belt use, many defendants naturally argue that a victim’s failure to buckle up is at least partially to blame for their injuries. In other words, the victim’s own negligence is to blame.
The argument has some force. Generally, people are supposed to follow safety laws, and any failure to do so constitutes negligence. Why, then, can’t a driver claim a victim’s own negligence was a contributing factor in the crash? If successful, the defendant could reduce their liability—or escape liability altogether.
Can Defendants Raise the Seat Belt Defense?
No. Our legislature actually passed a law stating that failure to wear a seat belt can’t be considered contributory negligence to reduce a person’s compensation in a car accident. You can find the law here: Conn. Gen. Stat. § 14-100a.
This is great news. It means that negligent drivers must fully compensate victims when they cause a crash, and victims should receive full compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Any other rule would allow dangerous drivers to slide out from under their responsibility to drive carefully. It might even encourage dangerous driving.
However, this law does not mean a victim can never be contributorily negligent. For example, if you were reading a text message when you were struck, then this might be used against you. The same is true if you were reaching into a back seat to get a handle on a pet that was out of control. Failure to keep your eyes on the road is negligence, which can impact your case. The law simply exempts the failure to wear a seat belt from being introduced to reduce your compensation.
Contact Our Motor Vehicle Accident Lawyers in Glastonbury, CT
Comparative negligence pops up in many cases because it is a powerful weapon motorists use to reduce their liability. At Tehrani Law Group, our Glastonbury car accident lawyers marshal all facts in your favor and advocate for meaningful compensation. Contact us today to schedule a case evaluation.