How Seat Belt Use Affects Car Accident Claims in West Virginia

If you’re involved in a car accident, you may expect to have a claim against the at-fault driver for your injuries and damages. But what happens if you aren’t wearing a seatbelt?

Alongside the higher likelihood of severe injury or even death, not wearing a seatbelt during a vehicle collision might also limit the compensation you could otherwise receive. Not to mention not wearing a seat belt while in a moving vehicle is against the law in the Mountain State.

So, how can seat belt use (or lack thereof) affect your car accident claim in West Virginia?

Let’s take a look at some of the specifics regarding seat belt laws and how our state’s modified comparative fault rule plays into car accident claims.

West Virginia Seat Belt Laws

The 2021 Annual Report of the West Virginia Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) shows there were 267 traffic fatalities in 2020. Eighty-four of these were due to occupants of involved vehicles being unrestrained (not wearing a seat belt). Seat belts keep people safe; that’s one of the first things we learn as children when our parents or other adults put us in the car.

WV Statute 17C-15-49 states that all drivers and front-seat passengers in a car must wear a seat belt while the car is in motion. If you’re in a vehicle collision and sustain injuries from not wearing a seat belt, you are not legally allowed to file for all damages.

So, while you can’t file for pain and suffering damages, you may still be able to file for emotional distress, lost wages, medical expenses, and loss of quality of life.

It’s also important to understand that not wearing a seatbelt is against the law in West Virginia and that those in violation of this law may be ticketed and fined $25, regardless of who may or may not be at fault for a vehicle collision.

Using the “Seat Belt Defense”

The “seat belt defense” is commonly used in many states to shift the blame for an accident to the injured party. If the plaintiff (the injured person) was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the collision the defendant (the at-fault driver) can argue that the plaintiff contributed to their own injuries by failing to obey the law.

This “defense” is partially allowed in West Virginia under certain circumstances. According to WV Statute 17C-15-49a, seat belt use can be admissible in a civil case to show that the plaintiff’s actions contributed to the injuries they sustained during the accident. However, the defendant must have expert testimony to prove that lack of seat belt use caused or exacerbated the plaintiff’s injuries.

Additionally, the admissibility of this evidence doesn’t apply if any driver with a percentage of fault was driving in an impaired state at the time of the accident.

Can You Get Compensation If You Didn’t Use a Seat Belt?

The quick answer is: most likely.

Anyone involved in a car accident in the state of West Virginia is legally entitled to pursue a personal injury or insurance claim against the other driver(s) involved. We are in a modified comparative fault state, meaning that accident victims can still recover compensation for their losses as long as they were not more than 50% at fault for the crash.

So, even if you were not using a seat belt at the time of your accident, and even if it is proven in court according to the previously stated statute that your lack of a seat belt may have contributed to your injuries, you may still be able to receive some amount of compensation for the injuries and damages you suffered.

If the other driver or their legal team discovers that you were not wearing a seat belt at the time of your accident, they may deny your claim for compensation or offer you a low settlement.

This is when it’s important to have an expert attorney from Hendrickson & Long, PLLC, on your side.

Your attorney will consider all the evidence and negotiate a settlement on your behalf, regardless of whether you were wearing a seatbelt. If settlement negotiations fail, you and your attorney can file a personal injury lawsuit and take your case to court.

Wearing a seat belt is just common sense, not only because it’s the law but because it makes all occupants of a car safer in the event of a collision. But, if you were unrestrained during an accident, our legal team can help.