If I Was Not Wearing a Seatbelt, Can I Still Recover Damages in a Car Crash?
Buckling your seatbelt reduces your risk of fatal injury by 45% in a passenger car and 60% in a light truck. Seatbelts saved an estimated 14,668 lives in 2016. Despite the proven power of seatbelts, more than 27 million people still don’t wear them. If you weren’t buckled up during a car accident in Birmingham, it might have consequences beyond physical injuries. Failing to wear a seatbelt could negatively impact your ability to recover damages in many states.
Alabama Seatbelt Laws
Seatbelts are a requirement for all drivers in Alabama. The Alabama Department of Public Safety requires those “in the front seat of a running vehicle” to wear a safety belt, or else risk a fine of $25. Passengers in the front seat of the vehicle must also wear seatbelts. Those in the backseat of the car don’t legally have to wear seatbelts unless they are under the age of 15. Not wearing your seatbelt as a driver in Alabama means you’re breaking the law.
In many states, breaking a law such as the seatbelt requirement constitutes negligence per se. Negligence per se means that the individual is negligent without needing any further proof beyond the fact that he or she broke a law. Breaking the law by not wearing a seatbelt, resulting in injuries that likely would not have happened or been as serious if the victim obeyed the law, could qualify as negligence per se in many states. This could impact the victim’s ability to recover. In Alabama, however, the contributory negligence law has an important seatbelt exception.
Alabama Contributory Negligence Laws
Alabama is currently the only state that completely bars a car accident victim from recovery if he or she was even partially at fault for the crash. Contributory negligence laws are strict, and state that the plaintiff can’t recover damages at all if the courts find him or her just 1% responsible for the accident or injuries. In contrast, most other states obey some type of comparative negligence law, in which the victim can still recover at least partial damages. Luckily, the law has some exceptions, including one regarding lack of seatbelt wearing.
The Seatbelt Exception
Alabama Code Section 32-5B-7 specifically states that the “failure to wear a safety belt…shall not be considered evidence of contributory negligence.” This means the defense in a personal injury case cannot try to pin any contributory negligence on the plaintiff on the basis that he or she was not wearing a seatbelt. Even if the victim suffered serious head, brain, or spinal cord injuries that would not have happened had he/she been using a seatbelt, the defense cannot use it as evidence of this type.
This section of the law also states failing to wear a seatbelt “shall not limit the liability of an insurer.” In other words, your insurance company cannot offer you a smaller settlement because you weren’t wearing your seatbelt. If an insurance claims adjuster tries to bring up your lack of seatbelt wearing (or even asks whether or not you were wearing one), politely decline to respond until you’ve spoken to an attorney. The insurance company is likely trying to take advantage of you to offer a smaller settlement award.
The Alabama Department of Public Safety also cannot issue a conviction for lack of seatbelt wearing on your driving record if you weren’t buckled up in an accident. If you weren’t wearing a seatbelt in your recent Alabama car accident, don’t worry. Thanks to the exception in the Alabama Code, this won’t impact your ability to recover damages. You may still, however, want to talk to an attorney about your crash to make sure you’re getting the recovery you deserve.