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Can You Claim Damages if You Weren’t Wearing a Seat Belt?

Posted on Sunday, May 27th, 2018 at 1:40 pm    

Texas negligence rules are based on a concept of ‘modified comparative fault.’ This means that if it is determined that you “contributed” to your injuries because you were in some way negligent when an accident took place the amount of compensation you can claim is reduced in proportion to your perceived degree of fault. Additionally, if it is determined that you were more than 50% to blame for the accident, even 51%, then you cannot obtain any compensation at all.

How modified comparative fault affects a claim when you were not wearing a seat belt

The significance of comparative modified fault becomes obvious if you were hurt in a car accident when someone slammed into you, but you weren’t wearing a seat belt. The other driver may have been obviously at fault, but it is decided that you share some of the blame for the injuries you have received. Let’s say you decide that the total amount of damages you should receive was $20,000 for medical treatment, lost earnings and the pain and suffering caused. However, the case goes to court and the judge decides that the fact that you were not wearing a seat belt diminished your claim by 20%. This means that the maximum you would obtain would be $16,000 ($20,000 – 20% of $20,000).

Shared negligence is a gray area for insurance purposes

If you have been injured in a vehicle accident, the natural tendency is to believe that you were not to blame for the accident, but it is quite possible that both you and the other driver were partly to blame for the accident. Imagine, for instance that you were driving along a highway in heavy traffic. Another vehicle was following, a bit too close for comfort. You decide to pass a vehicle in front of you, but fail to signal. Just at that point, the following vehicle decides to accelerate and overtake your vehicle. The vehicle crashes into the rear end of your car. Both cars are seriously damaged and both you and the other driver are quite seriously injured requiring hospitalization and subsequent surgery. Who was at fault and how much could you claim?

In practice, this would be a difficult situation to resolve as there is a question of shared negligence. The final resolution would come down to a detailed analysis of what happened immediately before the crash. Under Texas law, one of the two drivers is not going to receive any compensation at all, because he or she would have been judged to have been more than 50% at fault, while the other driver’s compensation would be limited to somewhere between 51% and 100% of the claim.

Contact a personal injury attorney if there is a hint of shared negligence.

Any hint of shared negligence means that you would be under pressure at the very least from the other driver’s insurance adjuster if you decide to file a claim. Insurance companies hate to concede that their clients were at fault and hate paying compensation. The upshot is that they will try and pin the blame, or at least some of it, on you, the plaintiff in an attempt to reduce their liability. The solution is to get legal help rather than try and negotiate your claim all by yourself. Experienced personal injury attorneys like ours at the Patino Law Firm in McAllen are used to assessing cases of shared negligence and will seek to minimize your share of the blame.

As for wearing a seat belt, it only makes sense. It is Texas law to wear a seat belt and you can be fined if you are not wearing one. It can save your life or at least minimize serious injury if you have an accident. If you are hit by a negligent driver and are not wearing your seat belt at the time, there is a chance that you will have to bear the financial cost of medical treatment, damage to your vehicle and possibly lose your job or your right to obtain compensation is challenged because of an interpretation of modified comparative negligence.