If I Wasn’t Wearing a Seat Belt, Can I Still Recover Damages After a Car Accident?
According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), seat belts save an estimated nearly 15,000 lives per year. Seat belt use is also higher in states with primary enforcement laws.
Rhode Island is among the states where seat belt violations are considered a primary offense, which means law enforcement officers can pull over motorists and issue tickets for driving without a seat belt.
However, many drivers in Rhode Island still operate vehicles with their seat belts unbuckled. This factor alone can make it more difficult to receive compensation for your damages.
But what if you sustained injuries in a car accident and weren’t wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash? Would you still be entitled to compensation?
In order to determine whether you can still recover damages if you weren’t wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, it’s vital to understand seat belt laws in Rhode Island.
What are Rhode Island’s seat belt laws?
Rhode Island has a primary enforcement law, which means drivers can be pulled over and ticketed by law enforcement officers for failure to wear a safety belt while driving.
Rhode Island General Laws § 31-22-22 provides that:
- Drivers of motor vehicles must wear a seat belt or use a shoulder harness system while the car is in motion and operated on Rhode Island’s streets, roadways, and highways.
- Passenger children over the age of eight must be riding in the vehicle while wearing a safety belt or using a harness system.
If you do not wear a seat belt while operating a motor vehicle in the state of Rhode Island, you can receive a ticket for a seat belt violation. Also, drivers are responsible for ensuring that their children passengers are properly wearing seat belts.
If you get caught driving with a child riding in the front seat or a child over the age of eight not wearing a seat belt, you will be ordered to pay a fine of $85.
Can your failure to wear a seat belt prevent you from recovering damages?
Rhode Island is a pure comparative negligence state where damages are awarded in proportion to each party’s degree of fault (Rhode Island General Laws § 9-20-4).
Under the pure comparative negligence system, you are entitled to compensation even if you were mostly at fault for the accident. Your recovery will be reduced by your own percentage of negligence.
However, your failure to wear a seat belt at the time of your car accident cannot be used as evidence of your negligence, according to Rhode Island General Laws § 31-22-22(h).
Thus, the other party or the insurance company will not be able to use the “seat belt defense” to hold you partially at fault for the accident simply because you were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the collision.
However, your recovery could still be reduced by your degree of fault if you contributed to the accident in any other way. For example, if you were speeding at the time of the accident and were deemed 30% at fault for your injuries, your total settlement amount would be reduced by 30%.
Speak with our Rhode Island car accident attorneys at Robert E. Craven & Associates if you were involved in a crash while not wearing a seat belt. Discuss your case by scheduling a consultation today. Call 401-453-2700.