Can a Car Accident Victim’s Failure to Wear a Seatbelt Be Used against Them in a California Personal Injury Case?

The fact that seatbelts can save lives or reduce the severity of injuries in a California car accident is common knowledge. Indeed, California law requires all cars to have properly functioning seatbelts and also requires drivers and passengers over the age of eight to wear a seatbelt at all times.

While seatbelt use can save the life of a motorist involved in a car accident, the act of wearing a seatbelt does nothing to decrease the chance of being involved in an accident. This has led states to come to differing conclusions about whether a defendant in a car accident lawsuit can use the fact that the plaintiff was not wearing a seatbelt as a defense or as a way to limit their own liability.

California’s Approach to Seatbelt Non-Use Evidence

California takes an interesting approach when it comes to seatbelt non-use evidence in that courts allow a defendant to argue that a plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt should factor into the jury’s determination of the reasonableness of the plaintiff’s conduct. To understand how this works, it is necessary to understand California’s comparative fault statute.

In California, an accident victim is entitled to file a personal injury claim against anyone they believe to be liable for their injuries. However, if a jury determines that a plaintiff is partially at fault in causing their own injuries, the jury is permitted to reduce the plaintiff’s award amount by the plaintiff’s percentage of fault. California is a “pure comparative fault” jurisdiction, meaning that even an accident victim who is more than 50% at fault can pursue a claim for damages.

When it comes to using seatbelt non-use evidence, California courts provide a jury instruction that allows jurors to consider the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt in the overall determination of fault. However, in order to obtain this jury instruction, the defendant must establish the following:

  • There was a working seatbelt in the car;
  • A reasonably careful person in the plaintiff’s situation would have used the seatbelt;
  • The plaintiff failed to wear the seatbelt; and
  • The plaintiff’s injuries would have been less serious had a seatbelt been worn.

Importantly, the determination of whether the plaintiff’s injuries would have been less severe had a seatbelt been used must be established through expert testimony.

Have You Been Injured in a California Car Accident?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in a California car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. This may still be the case even if you were not wearing your seatbelt at the time of the accident, or if you were partially at fault in causing the collision. The dedicated Southern California personal injury attorneys at Sharifi Firm have extensive experience handing a wide range of California car accident claims, including those involving issues of seatbelt non-use. To learn more, and to speak with an attorney about your case, call 866-422-7222 to schedule a free consultation.

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California Court Discusses the Scope of Church’s Duty to Parishioner in Recent Premises Liability Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 27, 2017

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