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Seeking Accident Recovery: What if I Wasn’t Wearing a Seat Belt?

Posted in Car Accidents on June 18, 2021

In 2019, there were approximately 160,000 motor vehicle crashes in Louisiana that involved more than 400,000 vehicle occupants. While seat belt usage has been steadily on the rise in Louisiana with over 80% of occupants using a seat belt, it is still one of the four major contributors to fatalities in motor vehicle crashes.

Louisiana recently changed its law on use of seat belt usage in motor vehicle accident cases. Read on to understand your ability to recover for injuries after a car accident if you weren’t wearing your seatbelt.

Who is At Fault?

The first step in determining fault is to evaluate who or what caused the accident. Common parties responsible for motor vehicle accidents are:

  • Negligent Driver: If a driver acts outside the normal standard of care, it increases the chance of an accident. Negligent driver actions include speeding, failure to yield, driving under the influence of alcohol, failure to heed a traffic signal or stop sign, and distracted driving.
  • Employer: If the negligent driver was acting in the scope of their work duties at the time of the accident, their employer is responsible for their actions. Employer insurance policies are likely to have higher coverage for injuries.
  • Vehicle Manufacturer: If a vehicle malfunction such as a brake or steering failure caused the accident, the manufacturer is responsible.
  • Local Government: If a failure of the government or a governmental department caused your accident, they might be liable. Common failures include missing, damaged, or obscured traffic signals or poorly maintained or marked roadways. Many governmental entities are protected from lawsuits, so a lawyer will need to advise on your ability to recover.

As you work to build a case against the responsible party, you will need to collect evidence. Often a police report is a key piece of evidence because it includes images of the accident scene, witness statements, and any traffic violations by any driver involved.

After you determine which party’s actions caused the accident, you must assess the impact of not wearing a seatbelt. This has been a contentious issue in Louisiana with a recent change in the law. Up until January 2021, while Louisiana law required motor vehicle occupants to wear seatbelts, the law stated that “In any action to recover damages arising out of the ownership, common maintenance, or operation of a motor vehicle, failure to wear a safety belt…shall not be considered evidence of comparative negligence. Failure to wear a safety belt…shall not be admitted to mitigate damages.”

Effective in January 2021, the Civil Justice Reform Act repealed this provision of state law. This means that the defendant can argue that your failure to wear a seatbelt should reduce your damages at trial. Reduction in damages is based on the theory of mitigation. Victims have a requirement to use reasonable effort to avoid or reduce damages. If the defendant can prove that your damages would not have been as severe if you were wearing a seatbelt, your damages will be reduced accordingly.

Assessing Damages

In order to understand what you can recover after an accident with a negligent driver, start by preparing an assessment of all the damages you have suffered as a result of the accident. Common car accident damages are:

  • Medical Expenses: Total up all the expenses from your injuries, including emergency transportation, medical procedures, and doctor’s visits. Also include an estimate of future or ongoing expenses like physical therapy.
  • Emotional Distress: Physical injuries are not the only possible injuries after an accident. Many victims suffer from emotional injury including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Lost Wages: If your injuries forced you to miss work, include your lost wages in your damages demand. Also include future lost wages and reduced future earning potential.
  • Property Damage: If your vehicle or other property was damaged or destroyed, the defendant is responsible for repair or replacement.
  • Loss of Enjoyment: If you are unable to participate in an activity that was previously a meaningful part of your life because of your injuries, the defendant is responsible for this loss.

As you proceed with your case, do not voluntarily reduce your damages for failure to wear a seat belt. It is the defendant’s burden to prove that your damages were more severe because you weren’t wearing a seat belt. The damages most susceptible to this defense are medical expenses and lost wages. The defendant might also argue that your emotional distress would not have been as bad if your injuries were less severe. The defendant will have a difficult time proving that failure to wear a seat belt had an impact on damage to your vehicle.

If your case proceeds to trial, it will be up to the jury to determine the damages you deserve to recover. Work with your attorney to prepare a strong case that your failure to wear a seat belt had minimal impact on the extent of your injuries. If you receive a settlement offer, your lawyer can help evaluate if the amount is reasonable based on the damages you have suffered and your failure to wear a seat belt.

An experienced personal injury attorney will be a critical partner as you navigate recovery. The ability to present evidence about seat belt usage is very new in Louisiana. An experienced lawyer will help you understand how insurance companies and juries are likely to respond to this change in the law and to prepare a strong case for recovery. A lawyer will also help you act fast, which is important in Louisiana. Car accident victims must file a lawsuit within one year of the accident.

Contact the Law Office of John W. Redmann, LLC today at (504) 500-5000 for a free case consultation. Our lawyers are tough at the negotiating table and in the courtroom, and we do everything possible to bring about a positive outcome for our clients. We believe so strongly in the skill of our team that our clients owe us nothing unless we recover on their behalf.