The Seatbelt Defense: Can You Seek Damages If You Weren’t Wearing a Seatbelt?

When driving, you should always wear a seatbelt. There are a number of good reasons to do so, but none more important than the fact that it keeps you safe in the event of a crash. It is for this reason alone that police officers and lawmakers are so intent on you wearing one, so much so that at times the laws for it seem like they impede our personal freedoms. While click it or ticket laws may be annoying, if you have never been in a crash, you don’t know just how much seatbelts can make a difference not just in the event of a crash, but in the aftermath as well. How do seatbelts effect the aftermath of a crash? What most people don’t know is that there is a little known and highly controversial Wisconsin state law that will make victims in a crash wish they had been wearing a seatbelt if their injuries don’t already – the seatbelt defense.

What is the Seatbelt Defense?

The seatbelt defense is a legal maneuver in which the person that caused the crash (if it was not your fault) will request that the court lower or in some cases eliminate the amount of damages you seek as the victim simply because you were not wearing a seatbelt. In the eyes of this defense, you did not take the proper precautions to stay safe in the event of a crash, thus the person who caused the crash shouldn’t need to pay the full amount for your injuries that they caused.

It is pretty easy to see why this legal defense is so controversial, but only 16 states recognize it, and sadly, Wisconsin is one. While it doesn’t quite seem fair that a person who was clearly responsible for your accident shouldn’t pay the full amount, if nothing else, the existence of the seatbelt defense is just one more good reason for people to wear one.

Getting Around the Seatbelt Defense

If you were in a crash that was not your fault and were not wearing a seatbelt at the time, all is not lost. Wisconsin law supports the seatbelt defense, but still puts a limit on how much a jury can reduce your damages. If you weren’t wearing a seatbelt in an accident, at most, they jury can only deduct up to 15 percent for your failure to wear one.

Often times this means that you won’t be able to seek damages for injuries that would have been prevented if you were wearing a seatbelt in the crash. This can sometimes be enough to not make the personal injury case worth it if your injuries were minor. However, that doesn’t mean the case isn’t worth pursuing. The seatbelt defense may be a very valid strategy for the person responsible for the crash, but that doesn’t mean it will always succeed. In cases of extreme negligence, often it won’t matter if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt since it might not have made a difference.

What can really make the difference when you think the seatbelt defense might be employed is to have a good attorney to represent you. There are a lot of small things that can make a difference in a personal injury case, and there are a lot of small things that might be able to derail a seatbelt defense. However, it takes the right lawyer to find them. If you have been in a car accident in the Oshkosh area, regardless of if you were wearing your seatbelt or not, contact us today. You have the right to seek damages for your injuries, and the Harnitz Law Office can help.