7 Apr 2022

By Jividen Law Offices, PLLC

In Car Accident

If you were injured in a car accident in West Virginia, you could be entitled to file a claim against the driver who caused the accident. A successful claim could provide you with compensation for losses like medical expenses, lost income, pain and suffering, and property damage.

But what if you weren’t wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash? Below, we’ll discuss how that might affect your ability to secure the compensation you deserve. If you have further questions that aren’t answered here or otherwise need help with your claim, the West Virginia car accident attorneys of Jividen Law Offices, PLLC are here to help. Contact us today for a free consultation.

West Virginia Car Accident: No Seat Belt

One person was killed and another was severely injured in a recent three-vehicle accident in Frederick County, Virginia.

The fatal incident occurred when the driver of a 2021 Dodge Ram headed west on US 50 attempted to turn left onto Gore Road in front of an eastbound 2002 Ford Ranger. The Ford collided with the Dodge, sending it caroming into a 2014 Toyota Tundra that was waiting at a stop sign on Gore Rd.

The driver of the Ford was seriously injured while his passenger died at the scene. Neither had been wearing their seat belt at the time of the collision.

The Dodge’s driver, who had been wearing a seat belt, was not injured. He was subsequently charged with reckless driving.

The Toyota’s driver was unhurt. He, too, had been wearing his seat belt at the time.

Seat Belt Laws In West Virginia

In West Virginia, all drivers and passengers in the front seat of a passenger vehicle are required by law to wear a seat belt while the vehicle is being operated. Passengers riding in the back seat of a vehicle are required to wear a seat belt if they are under the age of 18.

The fine for violating this law is $25. There are some exceptions to the seat belt law for disabled individuals (if they meet certain requirements) and rural mail carriers.

Consequences/Risks Of Not Wearing a Seat Belt

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), seat belt use saved nearly 15,000 lives in one recent year alone. They also noted that another 2,549 lives could have been saved if everyone had used a seat belt. Additionally, in another recent year, 47 percent of the 22,215 passenger vehicle occupants killed in traffic accidents were not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.

Simply put, the consequences of not wearing a seat belt can be serious, even fatal. Drivers and passengers who aren’t properly restrained can be thrown around in a collision and can even be ejected from the vehicle. And while airbags offer some protection from the force of a collision, they can actually harm passengers who are not properly restrained.

Buckling up lowers your risk of suffering injuries in a collision significantly. According to the NHTSA, using a seat belt is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself from being injured or killed in an accident.

What Is The “Seat Belt Defense”

Some states allow defendants to use a “seat belt defense” to shift blame for an accident to the plaintiff. Essentially, if a plaintiff (the person bringing the claim) was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, the defendant can argue that the plaintiff contributed to their own injuries by failing to obey the law.

In West Virginia, state law had previously dictated that the seat belt defense could not be admitted as evidence showing that an accident victim was negligent and therefore party responsible for their own injuries. Defendants were also barred from using the seat belt defense to prove that an unbuckled adult passenger was negligent. However, the state legislature recently passed a law amending the relevant statute to eliminate this provision, and this evidence is now admissible in a civil suit.

What If You’re At or Not At Fault?

Even if you weren’t wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, you could still file an accident claim against the driver who caused the crash.

West Virginia is a modified comparative fault state. This means that an accident victim can still recover compensation for their losses as long as they were not more than 50 percent responsible for the accident.

For example, if you are found to be 10 percent at fault for an accident and the other motorist is found to be responsible for 90 percent, you would be able to recover 90 percent of the total possible damages.

If you weren’t wearing a seat belt when the crash occurred and the other motorist can demonstrate that your failure to wear a seat belt contributed to your injuries, that doesn’t let the other driver off the hook. You can still hold them at least partially liable through an accident claim or lawsuit.

Difference Between a Car Insurance Claims & Personal Injury Lawsuits

If you were injured in a car accident caused by another motorist, you are legally entitled to pursue an insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault motorist.Fault for car accidentFault for car accident

Most personal injury cases settle out of court, mainly because the legal process is time-consuming and expensive. When you first file an insurance claim with the at-fault party’s insurer, an insurance adjuster will conduct an independent investigation into the accident.

If they discover that you were not wearing your seat belt at the time of the wreck, they will likely take this into account as they assess the strength of your claim. They could potentially deny your claim or offer you a lowball settlement. If that happens, the best thing that you can do is bring in an experienced personal injury attorney to negotiate a settlement on your behalf. An attorney may be able to strike a better deal with the insurance adjuster than you could yourself.

If settlement negotiations fail, then filing a personal injury lawsuit and taking your case to court might be your best option. After both sides have presented their respective cases, a judge or jury will render a verdict and determine how much you are to receive in compensation.

Contact Jividen Law Offices, PLLC Today

Contact our car accident lawyers if you or a loved one has been hurt in an accident that someone else caused. The West Virginia car accident attorneys at Jividen Law Offices, PLLC have the knowledge and resources to help you hold the at-fault party accountable for their negligence.

Reach out today for a free consultation.