Does Not Wearing a Seatbelt Affect My Car Accident Claim?
Car accident claims are probably the most common of all personal injury claims. In fact, in the past, car accident claims clogged Florida courts so much that the state adopted “no-fault” car insurance rules to reduce the number of car accident lawsuits. If you suffered a car accident while you were not wearing a seatbelt, the effect of your failure to do so depends on more than one factor.
Florida’s “No-Fault” Car Accident Compensation System
Florida is one of about a dozen states that operates a “no-fault” auto insurance system. If you suffer an accident in Florida, you generally don’t sue anyone for your injuries, even an at-fault driver. Instead, you look to your own Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance to handle your claim up to $10,000. PIP will not ask whose fault the accident was. You can sue the at-fault driver for property damage, however.
You can escape Florida’s “no-fault” system if your injuries are “serious” under Florida law. A “serious” injury involves death or an injury that involves “a substantial risk of death, serious personal disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment…”
Once you establish your injuries are “serious”, you can claim against the at-fault driver or their liability insurance policy. You will need to do this if your injuries cost you more than $10,000.
The Liability Insurance Loophole
The problem with “serious” injuries in Florida is that Florida is one of only two US states that does not require its drivers to purchase bodily injury liability insurance. If you file a claim or a lawsuit against a driver who purchased only the minimum required insurance, you will need to look to the at-fault driver’s personal assets to satisfy your claim. If they don’t have any money, you might be out of luck. However, a lawyer might be able to find a third party who is liable.
Preparing for the Worst: Available Accident Insurance in Florida
Certain types of auto insurance are available in Florida even though they are not required. They include:
- Bodily injury liability insurance;
- uninsured motorist insurance;
- Underinsured motorist insurance;
- Collision insurance (for damage to your own car); and
- Umbrella insurance.
Don’t wait until an accident happens to consider purchasing adequate coverage, because by then it will be too late.
The Legal Elements of a Personal Injury Lawsuit
Assuming that your injuries are “serious” enough to allow you to exit Florida’s “no-fault” auto insurance system, you will need to win a personal injury claim to obtain compensation. That means you will need to prove the following four facts, either in court or at the settlement table:
- The defendant word you a duty of care. All drivers owe other people on the road a duty of reasonable care. It doesn’t matter whether you were injured as a passenger or as another driver.
- The defendant breached their duty of care. That means their behavior fell below the standard of care that a hypothetical “reasonable person” would have observed.
- You suffered an injury.
- The defendant’s breach of their duty of care (in other words, their negligence) is what caused your injury.
The standard of proof is “a preponderance of the evidence”, which means any weight of evidence above a 50% likelihood. Establishing these facts with a 50.1% likelihood is enough to meet your burden of proof.
Once you establish these facts, you have a “prima facie” case. That means you win unless the defendant can establish a successful defense.
The Florida Safety Belt Law
The Florida Safety Belt Law requires you and your passengers to buckle up while on public roads. There are exceptions for legal adults (over 18) riding in the back seat, and people with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing seat belts. Although a police officer can ticket you for breaking this law, the law itself does not specify its effect on a car accident lawsuit.
Mitigation of Damages and Florida’s “Seatbelt Defense”
The way that your failure to wear a seatbelt might enter a car accident case is if the defendant decides to assert a “seatbelt defense.”
The seat belt defense is based on a basic principle of Florida personal injury law, the “duty to mitigate damages”. Under the duty to mitigate damages, you cannot collect compensation for losses that you could have avoided through the exercise of reasonable care. A motorist might use the duty to mitigate damages against a motorcyclist who suffers a head injury due to failure to wear a helmet, for example.
The duty to mitigate damages also applies in a car accident where someone suffers an injury because they failed to wear a seatbelt. Winning the “seatbelt defense” does not mean the defendant is not liable for your damages. It just means that the defendant will not bear liability for any injuries that you would not have suffered if you had been wearing a seatbelt. In all likelihood, it will reduce your compensation but not totally eliminate it.
The Elements of Florida Seatbelt Defense
Following is a list of the three legal elements of Florida’s seatbelt defense:
- You failed to wear a seatbelt;
- Your failure to wear a seatbelt was unreasonable under the circumstances; and
- Your failure to use a seat belt caused or contributed to your injuries.
The defendant must prove all three of the foregoing facts to reduce your damages based on failure to wear a seatbelt. Remember that if you were breaking Florida’s Seat Belt Law at the time of the accident, your failure to wear a seatbelt was automatically unreasonable under the legal principle of negligence per se. Even if an exception applies, a court could still find your failure to wear a seatbelt unreasonable.
You May Need To Hire a Jacksonville Car Accident Lawyer
You may or may not need to hire a car accident lawyer to handle a PIP claim. The odds are your PIP insurance provider will handle your claim smoothly. If they unreasonably delay resolution of your claim, however, or if they quibble over coverage, you might need a lawyer.
It is where your injuries are “serious” that you are most likely to need a lawyer. If you file a third-party claim against the at-fault driver, the opposing party will probably contest your claim, and they may raise the seatbelt defense. That’s when the services of a personal injury lawyer can come in handy.
Contact the Jacksonville Car Accident Law Firm of Baggett Law Personal Injury Lawyers Today For Help
For more information, please contact the Jacksonville and Ponte Vedra car accident law firm of Baggett Law Personal Injury Lawyers at the nearest location to schedule a free consultation today.
We serve Duval County, St. Johns County, and its surrounding areas:
Baggett Law Personal Injury Lawyers – Jacksonville
9471 Baymeadows Rd #105,
Jacksonville, FL 32256
Baggett Law Personal Injury Lawyers – Ponte Vedra
480 Town Plaza Ave #130,
Ponte Vedra Beach, FL 32081