One of the safest choices you can make as an operator or passenger of a motor vehicle is to utilize your seat belt. The National Highway Traffic-Safety Administration estimates that seat belts save 15,000 lives a year. The public, by and large, understands that seat belts save lives. The national average of seat belt usage is approximately 89%. Apart from the fact that airbags are designed to work with seat belts, failure to wear a seat belt increases your risk of injury from airbag deployment. As a Long Island car accident attorney, I have seen firsthand the disastrous effects of not wearing a seat belt.
While seat belt safety is well known, few people understand the relationship between seat belt use and personal injury. In New York, all front seat passengers are required to wear seat belts. Rear seated passengers under 16 are also required to wear seat belts. However, adults over the age of 16 are not required to wear seat belts when seated in the back seat. Failing to wear a seat belt in New York can lead to death, injury, or a fine, but more disastrous are its effects on a personal injury case. The law in New York with respect to injuries suffered in a car accident due to failure to wear a seat belt is harsh.
Courts have ruled that it is reasonable to expect that all occupants of a vehicle wear their seat belts, including rear seated passengers, even though the law does not require seat belt usage for rear seated adults. Therefore, failing to wear a seat belt is considered unreasonable and gives rise to the defense of mitigation. Basically, this means that if it can be proven that a seat belt was not used by an occupant of a vehicle and that wearing a seat belt would have prevented the injury suffered, a jury can disregard the injury entirely and award no money.
So, basically, you can be sitting in a car stopped at a traffic light, get struck from behind, suffer serious injuries, and not receive compensation if you were not wearing your seat belt. This may seem unfair but it is the law and any competent defense attorney will try to use it in a case where an injured plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt.
There is some good news for a plaintiff injured in a car accident that was not wearing a seat belt. In order to succeed with this defense, a defense attorney must prove that the injury would not have occurred but for the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt. This is often not easy to do and always requires the use of an expert witness. Further, a jury may disregard the fact that a plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt and award the plaintiff money anyway.
The bottom line is that you should always wear your seat belt. Failing to do so could lead to serious injury or death, you may not even be able to recover money for your accident. So, remember to always buckle up. For further questions, feel free to contact us at any of our six locations in Hauppauge, Patchogue, Babylon, Riverhead, Huntington and Garden City.
Steven Palermo is the managing partner for Palermo Law, Long Island’s Personal Injury Law Firm. He has been helping people receive compensation for their injuries for over 21 years. He focuses on cases involving car accidents, truck accidents, construction accidents and slip and fall injuries.
His book The Ultimate Guide to Handling New York Car Accident Claims details the ins and outs of a car accident claim in a simple, easy-to-read manner.