How Seat Belts Could Affect Your Personal Injury Claim


If you were injured in a car accident in New York City, you might have questions about your rights and obligations. One of the most common questions our attorneys get is whether not wearing a seat belt might adversely impact your car accident claim.

In New York, as of last year, seat belts are now required for all passengers in a vehicle. In the past, passengers riding in the back seat were not required to wear seat belts if they were over 16. Your accident claim and compensation could be negatively affected because not wearing a seat belt is a violation of state traffic laws.

If you were injured in a car accident but weren’t wearing your seat belt at the time of the crash, you could still be entitled to recover compensation for accident-related expenses. Reach out to our New York City car accident lawyers at Finz & Finz, P.C. today to discuss your case and evaluate your options. We offer a free, no-obligation initial consultation to all potential clients, so there’s no risk of reaching out and discussing your case with us.

Comparative Negligence in New York

New York is a no-fault state, which means that when someone is injured in an accident, they typically turn to their personal injury protection policy (also called no-fault insurance) for compensation, regardless of who was at fault. However, if you sustained a serious injury as defined by New York state law, then you might be able to pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver.

Whether you are filing a claim with your own insurance company or pursuing legal action against the at-fault driver, the amount of compensation you can receive may be reduced if it can be proved that you were not wearing your seatbelt at the time of the accident since seat belts are required for drivers and all passengers by New York state law.

New York follows a comparative negligence statute. That means that even if you were negligent in some way, you could still recover damages from the driver who hit you. Whatever percentage of fault you have for the accident will be deducted accordingly from your compensation. So if you weren’t wearing your seat belt and you are found to be 20% at fault while the other driver is 80% at fault, the court would likely reduce your recovery by your percentage of fault (by 20%, in this example).

New York’s Seat Belt Defense

If you file an injury claim with your PIP policy but weren’t wearing your seatbelt at the time of the crash, the insurance company will compare and contrast the injuries you sustained with the injuries you would have suffered if you had been wearing your seatbelt, and decrease your settlement accordingly.

If you were seriously injured and you are pursuing a personal injury lawsuit against the responsible driver, the defendant and their legal team can use New York’s seat belt defense to reduce the amount of compensation they must pay you.

If they can prove that your injuries resulted from not wearing a seat belt, that could significantly hamper your case. In short, if their defense is successful, you wouldn’t be able to recover compensation for any injuries you would not have sustained if you had been wearing your seat belt.

How A Personal Injury Lawyer Could Help

Even if you were not wearing your seat belt at the time of a car accident, a car accident attorney still might be able to help you secure compensation. If the negligent driver who caused the crash is arguing the seat belt defense, you need to hire a skilled car accident lawyer who won’t back down from a fight.

Many personal injury attorneys have experience representing victims of car accidents against seat belt defenses, and they know how to subvert that argument in a way that benefits your case. For instance, your attorney might bring up the fact that seat belt test crashes are performed with dummies, and dummies may fare differently in a simulated car crash than a live human being does.

Your attorney might also hire car accident reconstruction experts to assist with your case. These experts might be able to demonstrate that even if you had been wearing your seat belt at the time of the accident, the difference in injuries you suffered would not have been as extensive as the other side might claim.

Seat Belt Safety Tips

Modern cars are equipped with a wide variety of safety features such as anti-lock brakes and airbags that protect motorists and their passengers from the force of a collision. But seat belts remain one of the most effective tools at preventing severe injuries and death in a car accident.

Follow these seat belt safety tips to ensure you are using your seat belt correctly:

  • Ensure that the seat belts in your car fit you and your passengers properly.
  • The lap portion of your seat belt should lay across your lap, not your torso.
  • The shoulder portion of your seat belt should go across your chest, not up against your neck.
  • Don’t stretch the shoulder portion of the seat belt behind your headrest, as this leaves your chest and torso vulnerable in a crash. You should also ensure that your left arm is under the shoulder belt, not over.

Not wearing a seat belt increases your risk of being seriously injured. It could also harm your chances of receiving the full amount of compensation you need to cover your medical expenses, lost wages, and other losses caused by the accident. You could avoid this unfortunate scenario by wearing a seat belt at all times.

Contact a New York Car Accident Lawyer

If you were injured in a car accident but weren’t wearing your seat belt, contact the New York car accident attorneys at Finz & Finz, P.C. at your earliest convenience. Our team will be ready to discuss the specifics of your crash and help you understand your rights when you call us at 855-TOP-FIRM or reach out to us online. Don’t wait until it is too late to take action. Call us now.

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Finz & Finz, P.C. is a New York and Long Island personal injury law firm based out of Mineola, NY. It was founded in 1984 and is highly rated, with many honors and awards of excellence.