Seat Belt Usage Up in the United States

You're driving to the movies, and you're going to be late. Since you're in a hurry, you don't put your seat belt on. While you're going through an intersection, another driver runs the red light and slams into the side of your car. You know it was 100 percent that driver's fault, and the police agree. Can you still get compensation for your injuries, even though you broke the law by not wearing a seat belt?

Your Own Negligence

These cases can get rather complex, as negligence has to be considered on both sides. You could be found "negligent per se" since you did not wear your seat belt. The other driver may also have been negligent -- ignoring the red light -- and may have caused the crash, but this means you were also negligent for ignoring the safety law.

Seeking Compensation

This doesn't mean you can't seek compensation in all cases. Obviously, had you not been hit, you wouldn't have been hurt. In many states, comparative negligence is used, meaning that part of the blame falls on you for not wearing the belt and part falls on the other driver for hitting you. That driver may not have to cover the total cost, arguing that your injuries wouldn't have been so severe had you worn the belt. For example, if you had $100,000 in medical bills, that driver could be ordered to pay $70,000, while you still have to cover the other $30,000. This is just one example and every case is different.

It is worth noting that some states do still have strict contributory negligence laws. Even a small amount of negligence on your part could result in no compensation being awarded. The only way you can get compensation is if you did nothing wrong at all and were still injured.

Complicated Cases

Of course, the best way to ensure you get compensation is simply to follow the traffic laws yourself. If it's too late for that and you're already involved in a complex case, be sure you know what laws are on the books in your state and what legal rights they give you.