Can You Still Seek Compensation for Your Injuries if You Were Not Wearing a Seatbelt?
There is no arguing that seatbelt use can save lives. Some statistics even estimate that using a seatbelt properly reduces the risk of suffering a fatal injury in a car crash by nearly 50%. Due to the obvious benefits, using a seatbelt while a vehicle is in operation is required by law in every state except New Hampshire.
However, not everyone is consistent in their seatbelt usage, and sometimes accidents occur when a driver or passenger is not belted in. While it may be a legal violation and a risk to your health to not wear your seatbelt, whether or not it will impact your car accident claim depends on several factors. This article provides general information on how seatbelt use affects your ability to recover damages, but to learn how your specific case could be impacted, you should reach out to an experienced personal injury lawyer for a free case evaluation.
How Do Car Insurance Claims Differ From Personal Injury Lawsuits?
Indiana and Illinois are both what are known as “at-fault” states. In most cases, if you suffer injuries in a car accident in an at-fault state, you will begin by filing a “third-party” claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance. The insurance company’s adjuster will then investigate the claim to determine whether they will deny it or offer you a settlement. The amount of the settlement offer is calculated by considering many factors related to the case, potentially including your seatbelt use. You may choose to accept a settlement offer, or you can decline it and begin a negotiation process with the insurance company.
If you cannot reach a reasonable settlement agreement with the insurance company or your damages exceed the coverage limits, you may choose to file a lawsuit with the court to try to recover compensation for your losses. Recoverable damages include medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, and more. Even if you file a lawsuit, your case is highly likely to be resolved through negotiation before ever going to trial.
What Impact Does Seatbelt Use Have on Your Ability to File an Insurance Claim?
You have the right to file a third-party claim if someone else’s negligence led to the accident, regardless of whether or not you were wearing a seatbelt. However, the adjuster might offer you a low initial settlement if you were not wearing a seatbelt, or they may even try to deny your claim. You do not have to agree to a low settlement. You or your car accident lawyer can refute the adjuster’s reasoning and negotiate with the insurance company for a better settlement. If this does not work, you still have the option to take the case to court.
What is Comparative Negligence and How Could It Impact Your Case?
Whether or not you were using a seatbelt, certain issues could also impact your ability to file a claim and reduce the amount of your recovery. Both Indiana and Illinois follow comparative negligence systems for car accident cases. Under these systems, a victim is only able to file a claim against an at-fault party if the victim’s fault in the accident is 50% or less.
Additionally, the victim’s compensation will be reduced proportionally to the amount of fault assigned to them. For example, if an accident victim had $50,000 in damages but was found to be 10% responsible for the crash, their final compensation would be reduced by $5,000.
But if you did nothing else wrong to cause the accident, does not wearing a seatbelt make you partially at fault for the crash? This is where the “seatbelt defense” can come into play.
Do Indiana or Illinois Recognize the “Seatbelt Defense”?
Under the aptly named seatbelt defense, the insurance company or the defendant will use your failure to wear a seatbelt as proof that you share some liability for the accident, even if you did nothing to cause the crash itself. The reasoning is that the victim violated the law by not wearing their seatbelt, and their failure to wear it likely led to more severe injuries once the crash occurred.
Illinois and Indiana are two of the 30 states with no legal mechanism for using the seatbelt defense to reduce a plaintiff’s damages. While Indiana does not have any statutes that prohibit the use of the seatbelt defense, Illinois actually has laws that disallow the non-use of a seatbelt to be used as evidence in a car accident case. Because neither state recognizes the seatbelt defense, not wearing a seatbelt should not impact your financial recovery.
How Can a Car Accident Lawyer Help You?
Not wearing a seatbelt during an accident in Indiana or Illinois does not prevent you from filing an insurance claim or lawsuit against the at-fault party and their insurance. Still, having a knowledgeable car accident attorney can be crucial to your claim’s success. In theory, because the insurance company cannot use the seatbelt defense to reduce damages in these states, seatbelt use should not be an issue in your claim.
However, because insurance companies are businesses, they attempt to reduce the amount they must pay out to victims. They may find other ways to shift the responsibility for the accident onto you. A skilled attorney can help you negotiate a fair settlement that adequately covers all your current and future accident-related losses.