If I Wasn’t Wearing a Seatbelt, Can I Still Make a Claim?

Seatbelts are designed to minimize injuries in car accidents, and laws in Virginia, D.C. and Maryland require drivers and passengers to wear them in many situations. So what happens if you didn’t have yours fastened at the time of an accident? Can you still file a claim or will compensation be denied because of your failure to buckle up?

It’s important to consider the laws of the particular jurisdiction where the accident occurred and to gather as much evidence as possible about the causes of the accident and your injuries. Every case is different, but here are some of the factors that apply when determining whether you can recover compensation for an accident even if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt.

When Seatbelts are Required in Virginia, D.C., and Maryland

Virginia law requires the driver and any adult riding in the front seat of a vehicle to wear a seatbelt with shoulder harness when the vehicle is moving on a public road. The law makes exceptions for rural mail carriers, newspaper carriers, law enforcement personnel, delivery drivers, anyone in a taxi, and anyone with a doctor’s note explaining that they have a condition that prevents them from wearing a seatbelt.

Under Maryland law, a driver is prohibited from operating a motor vehicle unless they are wearing a seatbelt and have ensured that every occupant in the vehicle is wearing a seatbelt or secured in a child safety seat. This includes passengers in the backseat.

In Washington, D.C., the law requires the driver and all passengers to wear seatbelts “while the driver is in control of the vehicle.” Like Virginia, D.C. provides an exception for those with a written note from their doctors stating that medical reasons prevent them from wearing a seatbelt.

In most situations, anyone who has been injured in a motor vehicle accident is likely to have been in a situation where they were required to wear a seatbelt. That fact, combined with the contributory negligence laws of each jurisdiction, might make it seem like accident victims would be prevented from making a claim for damages. However, that is actually not the case.

Contributory Negligence

Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. are three of only five jurisdictions in the country that still follow the traditional contributory negligence rule. This rule specifies that if an individual contributed in even a small way to the cause of their injuries, they are not able to recover compensation for negligence. In most states, the actions of someone who contributed to the cause of their injuries can reduce the amount of recovery, but not completely bar their claim, unless they bear the majority of fault.

The contributory negligence rule as applied in Virginia, Maryland, and most situations in D.C. might seem to prevent accident victims from recovering damages if they failed to wear a seatbelt and the lack of a seatbelt caused injuries or made them worse. But specific laws in each jurisdiction change the impact of the contributory negligence rules with respect to seatbelts.

Evidence Regarding Failure to Wear a Seatbelt Cannot Be Used to Deny Compensation

Insurance companies often discuss the “seatbelt defense” and try to make accident victims think that they are not entitled to recover if they failed to wear a seatbelt. But the statutes in D.C., Virginia, and Maryland all specify that violating seatbelt requirements and not wearing a seatbelt cannot be used as evidence of negligence or contributory negligence. In fact, seatbelt use cannot be discussed at all in civil court unless the case involves a defect in the seatbelt.

There is no “seatbelt defense.” The insurance company cannot use it against you. They cannot argue that you would not have been injured if you were not wearing a seatbelt. They also cannot argue that failure to wear a seatbelt made your injuries more severe. However, they can argue that you acted negligently in other ways, so it remains vital to work with an experienced attorney who understands how to present the best evidence to succeed in recovering compensation after an accident. Remember that the contributory negligence rule can still apply to your case, just not with respect to seatbelt use.

Jennifer Porter Understands How to Succeed in Recovering After an Accident

Before attorney Jennifer Porter began representing injured individuals in Northern Virginia, Maryland, and D.C., she worked for insurance companies handling accident claims. She knows the strategies companies use to deny or reduce the value of claims, and she is prepared to win against those strategies.

For a free consultation to learn she could help you recover full and fair compensation after a car accident or other injury, contact Jennifer Porter Law, PLLC today.