Can You Get Compensated for a Car Accident if You Weren’t Wearing Your Seatbelt?

Even with aggressive ad campaigns like “Click It or Ticket” — even with new traffic laws introduced in Utah last year — even with countless studies pointing out the safety benefits of using restraints — thousands of Utahans still neglect to wear their seatbelts when driving or riding as passengers.  The question is, will failing to wear a seatbelt prevent you from recovering compensation for auto accident injuries?  Salt Lake City car accident lawyer Darwin Overson explains some important points about getting compensation when your own actions contributed to your crash injuries.

When Can You Sue Over a Car Accident in Utah?

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Utah is one of a dozen no-fault states when it comes to auto insurance.  Regardless of which driver caused the collision, both accident victims initially turn to their own insurer for compensation, which explains the term “no-fault.”  Before he or she will be able to file a lawsuit or make a claim with the other driver’s insurance company, the injured person must either:

  1. Exhaust $3,000 in PIP (Personal Injury Protection) benefits, which is a mandatory component of auto insurance in Utah. PIP coverage is there to help cover crash-related medical costs, such as ambulance rides and inpatient hospitalization.
  2. Be suffering from specific types of injuries or complications, which are:
    • Loss of limb/dismemberment
    • Permanent impairment
    • Permanent disability
    • Permanent scarring and disfigurement

If either of these conditions are met, the injury victim may have a claim against the other driver.  However, in order to receive compensation, he or she will have to prove that the other driver was at fault for the accident — or at least, primarily at fault.  This is where failure to wear your seatbelt can have an impact on getting compensated for a car accident in Utah.

How Modified Comparative Negligence Affects Your Injury Compensation

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In Utah, reckless and negligent drivers can be held liable for causing preventable accidents.  Some common examples of reckless driving and negligent driver errors include:

  • Aggressive, needless use of high beams
  • Distracted driving, such as texting while driving
  • Driving while intoxicated by alcohol, narcotics, or prescription drugs that induce drowsiness
  • Excessive speeding
  • Failure to observe right-of-way
  • Fatigued driving or falling asleep at the wheel
  • Following too closely (tailgating)
  • Improper turns
  • Weaving in and out of lanes

The fact that you weren’t wearing a seatbelt doesn’t change the fact that the other driver carelessly struck your vehicle, nor does it preclude you from seeking compensation for your injuries.  It may, however, reduce the amount of compensation you ultimately receive.

This is due to a legal concept known as modified comparative negligence, or modified comparative fault.  Under this doctrine, Utah car accident victims may get compensated even if they were partly to blame for the accident and resulting injuries.  However, this rule only applies when the injury victim was less at fault than the other driver (i.e. less than 50% at fault).  This is established by Utah Code § 78B-5-818(2), which provides the following:

“A person seeking recovery may recover [compensation] from any defendant… whose fault… exceeds the fault of the person seeking recovery…”

Under the modified comparative negligence doctrine, accident compensation may be reduced to reflect the injury victim’s degree of fault for the crash.  For instance, if you are assigned 5% of the fault due to not wearing your seatbelt, your award would be reduced to 95% of the full amount.  (For example, a $100,000 award would be reduced to $95,000.)

Not all states follow the doctrine of modified comparative negligence.  If you are not a Utah resident, you should check the driver negligence laws in your state.  Your state might use other standards, such as pure comparative negligence or pure contributory negligence, which have different effects on injury victims’ ability to obtain compensation for partial fault car accidents.

Contact Our Salt Lake County Car Accident Lawyers

You should always wear a seatbelt when driving or traveling as a passenger — not only because Utah expanded its seatbelt laws in 2015, but even more importantly, because seatbelts prevent injuries and save lives.

However, if you have already been injured in a car accident, you should call Utah auto accident lawyer Darwin Overson at (801) 895-3143 for a free legal consultation.  Depending on the circumstances of your accident, you may be able to get compensated for your medical bills, lost earnings, pain and suffering, and other hardships related to the crash.

Darwin has decades of experience handling all types of car accidents, including head-on collisions, intersection accidents, T-bone accidents, and rollover accidents.  Darwin handles car accident claims throughout the state of Utah, including Salt Lake City, Provo, West Valley City, Orem, Lehi, West Jordan, Sandy, Layton, Logan, Draper, Taylorsville, and more.

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