Does Not Wearing a Seatbelt Affect Your Insurance Claim?

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Wearing a seat belt while driving should be second nature to motor vehicle drivers in Georgia. Not only is it required by law, but it can potentially save your life if you’re in a car accident.

Even if you have a great driving record and make safe decisions behind the wheel, you can’t expect the same is always true of other drivers. Further, if another driver causes an accident in which you’re injured, not wearing a seatbelt could cost you some of your compensation.

This post will explore what it means for your personal injury claim and insurance if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt in an accident that wasn’t your fault. We’ll also discuss how a lawyer can help.

Not Wearing a Seatbelt Can Hurt Your Claim with the Insurance Company

If you become injured in a car accident that was caused by another driver’s negligence, and you were not wearing your safety belt at the time of the accident, you can hurt your chances for compensation for your injuries.

Not wearing a seatbelt when an accident occurred is likely to hurt your claim in Georgia. In South Carolina, it’s less likely to hurt your claim (more on this later).

At-Fault Status and Comparative Negligence Can Impact a Car Accident Claim in Georgia and South Carolina

Georgia and South Carolina are both at-fault states, which means at-fault parties must compensate injured parties after a car crash. Typically, injured people file claims with at-fault parties’ insurance companies for that compensation.

Car insurance companies are for-profit businesses, so it is their goal to pay you as little as possible during the settlement process. If they find out you weren’t wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, they may use this as a reason to offer you less compensation for your injuries.

The thinking behind that comes from the doctrine of comparative negligence, which Georgia and South Carolina both follow. Comparative negligence says that, regardless of who primarily caused the accident, an injured party will probably be held partially responsible if their negligent action or inaction also contributed to the accident or injuries.    

For the compensation itself, comparative negligence dictates that it can be reduced according to the injured person’s percentage of fault. For example, if a court determines you were 25% at fault, the amount of compensation you can recover will also be reduced by 25%.

Because Georgia and South Carolina observe modified comparative negligence, if your percentage of fault is more than 49% in Georgia (50% in South Carolina), you’ll likely be ineligible for any compensation at all. (Some other states which observe “pure” comparative negligence allow compensation even if you’re 99% at fault.)

RELATED: 5 Facts About Personal Injury Claims in Georgia

Comparative Negligence, the Seatbelt Defense, and Your Insurance Claim

In order to understand how not wearing a seatbelt can affect a personal injury claim in a comparative negligence state, we need to discuss the seatbelt defense. In states observing the seatbelt defense, it can be harder to get full compensation if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt during an accident.   

The seatbelt defense holds that not wearing a seatbelt is a type of negligence, which any driver should know puts them at far greater risk of injury. If you were in an accident caused by someone else in a state upholding the seatbelt defense, and your lack of a seatbelt made your injuries more severe, you will probably not get the full compensation amount. Comparative negligence will reduce your claim.

Georgia observes the seatbelt defense. In Georgia, if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt and are found, for example, 10% at fault for the injuries you suffered in a car accident, you will likely receive 10% less in compensation. A claim for $100,000 can be reduced to $90,000 in the actual settlement.

The auto insurance company’s argument will be that wearing your seat belt would have lessened the severity of your injuries. Even if it was the carelessness of the other driver that caused the accident, you will still be partially blamed for not following the law and wearing a seat belt while driving.

Unfortunately, the percentage of fault is determined on a case-by-case basis. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, you may be found more at fault than you think.

South Carolina, on the other hand, does not observe the seatbelt defense. Even though the state follows the comparative negligence doctrine, not wearing a seatbelt when injured in a car accident is less likely to shift some fault your way and reduce your compensation.   

Obviously, when you are involved in this type of accident, you need the help of a car accident attorney to fight for you and ensure you’re not taken advantage of by the insurance company.

Common Injuries Caused by Not Wearing a Seatbelt

Seatbelts hold you in your seat by wrapping over your shoulder, chest, and hips. These sturdy areas of the body have strong bones to protect your organs and can withstand the pressure of being restrained by a seatbelt better than your neck or belly.

If you’re not wearing a seatbelt and the vehicle comes to a sudden stop or change in direction, your body will keep moving and potentially be thrown into the car interior or out a window (front seat passengers especially). This is far worse than the bruises or even bone fractures a properly worn seatbelt can cause.

Airbags in the vehicle do not mean you don’t need a seatbelt. While airbags protect you from slamming into hard things during car accidents, they can cause injuries of their own, especially for someone not held in place by a seatbelt.

You can get just about any injury from not wearing a seatbelt, from a broken finger to deep cuts to something fatal. The most common injuries include:

RELATED: 4 Common Mistakes People Make with Insurance Companies

References

Can I recover damages if I was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of a car accident? (n.d.). Attorneys.com. Retrieved from https://www.attorneys.com/auto-accidents/can-i-recover-damages-if-i-was-not-wearing-a-seat-belt-at-the-time-of-a-car-accident

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. (n.d.). Seatbelts. Washington D.C.: Department of Transportation. Retrieved from https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/seat-belts

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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