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Does the Seat Belt Defense Apply in Virginia Car Accident Cases?

Study after study shows that wearing a seat belt can significantly reduce the chance of a motorist suffering serious injury or death following a Virginia car accident. For this reason, state governments across the country, including Virginia, require motorists to wear a seat belt. For the most part, drivers and passengers do a good job, with the most recent statistics indicating that over 85% of Virginians wear their seat belt.

Under Virginia Code § 46.2- 1094, most drivers and passengers who are 18 years or older must wear their seat belt at all times. Only in a limited number of situations are motorists excused from wearing their seat belt. These include:

  • Mail-delivery drivers
  • Newspaper-delivery drivers
  • Drivers and passengers in taxis
  • Meter readers
  • Law enforcement officers (in some situations)

If a driver or passenger fails to buckle up, they can face a small fine. One question that frequently comes up in the context of Virginia car accident cases is whether a motorist’s decision not to wear a seat belt can be used against them in a personal injury case against an allegedly negligent driver. Most commonly, this is referred to as the “seat belt defense.”

The seat belt defense is premised on the idea that an accident victim is required by law to wear a seat belt, and should not be able to recover for their injuries if they fail to buckle up. About fifteen states allow some form of the seat belt defense. When it applies, the seat belt defense can be used to reduce the damages a plaintiff receives based on the fact that they contributed to their injuries by failing to wear a seat belt.

Virginia lawmakers explicitly reject the seat belt defense in a later subsection of § 46.2- 1094. The statute explains that, while motorists are required by law to wear a seat belt, their failure to do so “shall not constitute negligence, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence or be the subject of comment by counsel” in any Virginia personal injury lawsuit. The reasoning behind most states’ rejection of the seat belt defense is that an accident can be caused by another motorist’s negligence, and not the victim’s lack of a seat belt. Thus, in a Virginia car wreck case, the defendant cannot attempt to evade responsibility by pointing to the accident victim’s decision not to wear a seat belt.

Have You Been Injured in a Virginia Car Accident?

If you were recently involved in a serious Virginia car accident, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. Depending on the nature of the crash and the extent of your injuries, available damages may include compensation for your medical expenses, lost wages, and any pain and suffering you endured as a result of the collision. At the Virginia personal injury law firm, Robinson Law, PLLC, we represent injury victims in car accident cases across the Commonwealth of Virginia. We also skillfully handle other personal injury matters, including Virginia slip-and-fall accidents. To learn more about how we can help you pursue a claim for compensation, call (703) 542-4008 today to schedule a free consultation.

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