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Decades of research has proven wearing a seat belt drastically reduces our chances of serious injury in a car accident. If you were not wearing a seat belt at the time of your car accident, you might be wondering how it affects your ability to pursue the other driver for damages.

What Is Comparative Negligence?

There are different variations with different names. We have endeavored to digest the concepts into a simple explanation. Comparative negligence laws govern scenarios where more than one driver is negligent in a car accident. Under comparative negligence, an injured driver is eligible to recover damages proportional to the other driver’s share of negligence or fault.

For example, if you were 25 percent negligent in a crash, and the other driver was 75 percent negligent, you could pursue the other driver for 75 percent of your total damages. If your economic and non-economic losses in this scenario total $10,000, you could recover $7,500 of that from the other driver. But if your share of negligence equaled 40 percent, and the other driver was 60 percent, your award would drop to a maximum of $6,000.

Some states follow a pure comparative negligence system. In these states, you can pursue the other party for damages no matter how high your share of negligence is, short of 100 percent. That means even if you were 95 percent liable for a crash, you could pursue the other driver for 5 percent of your damages.

Other states, however, cap this ability at a certain liability threshold, usually around 50 percent. In other words, if you were 49 percent liable, you can go after the other driver for 51 percent, but if you were 51 percent liable, you could not recover anything from the other driver.

In a handful of states, even a tiny shred of liability bars you from recovering damages from the other driver. In basic terms, if you contributed to your injuries in any way, you cannot seek compensation from the other driver.

How Does Failure to Wear a Seatbelt Impact Your Personal Injury Claim?

States have different seatbelt defense laws.  Some states consider not wearing a seat belt to be a form of negligence. If your accident occurred in one of these states, you might be partially liable for your injuries even if another driver caused the wreck. The share of liability assigned for not wearing a seat belt may depend on several factors:

  • The state where the accident occurred
  • The details of the accident
  • The nature of your injuries
  • Whether evidence shows that a seat belt would have lessened your injuries

Rhode Island Seatbelt Defense Law

Pursuant to R.I.G.L. § 31-22-22(h), an injured person’s failure to wear a seatbelt is not evidence of negligence and cannot be admitted as evidence in a car accident personal injury case.

Massachusetts Seatbelt Defense Law

In Massachusetts, evidence that an injured person was not wearing a seatbelt may be admissible to prove comparative negligence if the defendant produces evidence that the failure to wear a seatbelt caused or contributed to the injuries.   See Shahzade v. C.J. Mabardy, Inc., 411 Mass. 788, 796 (1992).  However, under Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 90, § 7AA, the failure to properly restrain a child with a safety seat or safety belt may not be used as evidence of contributory negligence in any civil action.

Connecticut Seatbelt Defense Law

In Connecticut, like Rhode Island, failure to wear a car safety seat belt is not evidence of negligence and is not admissible evidence in any civil action.  Conn. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 14-100a.

For a Free Car Accident Case Evaluation, Call Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick Today at 401-331-6300

No matter the circumstances of your car accident, the legal team at Chisholm Chisholm & Kilpatrick LTD wants to help. Our attorneys focus on car accident law and can help you fight in pursuit of maximize compensation. To schedule a free case evaluation with a member of our team, call our office today at 401-331-6300.



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