Seatbelts & Lawsuits: Learn the Facts
In Washington State, drivers and their passengers are required under the law to wear seat
belts. In car and other vehicle accidents, one of the questions commonly asked by un-
belted injury victims is whether they can still bring a lawsuit against the driver who hit
them, or does the fact that they were not buckled prevent them from bringing a claim?
Car and Vehicle Accident Victims Can Still Sue, Even if They Were Not Buckled
If you were not wearing a seat belt, you can still bring a lawsuit in the state of Washington.
The fact is, whether you were buckled or not was not the reason the crash occurred – it was
the other driver who was speeding, ran a red light, drove drunk, etc., who caused the crash.
They are the ones who should be held liable to the full extent of the law.
Not Being Buckled May Affect the Extent of Your Injuries and Damages
If you were not buckled, the defendant (the person driving the other vehicle) and their
lawyers will likely seize upon this fact in settlement negotiations and at trial (if a trial
results). In all likelihood, they will claim that you would not have been injured, or that your
injuries would have been less-worse if you had been wearing a seat belt.
As a starting point, if you’ve been injured, then your injuries are what they are. Possibly a
broken arm, a broken leg, cuts and lacerations, and maybe even whiplash. A physician or
other medical experts can be introduced at trial to provide evidence concerning the exact
scope of your damages, as well as the pain and suffering that you endured (in addition to
other damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and a totaled vehicle).
If the defense chooses to claim that these damages would have been less severe if you had
been wearing a seat belt, at trial they would need to introduce evidence as to exactly how a
seat belt would have prevented you from being injured so severely. For instance, if your
car was T-boned (hit from the side) on the driver’s side, and you were driving and
sustained severe leg and pelvic fractures, would your injuries have been less if you were
wearing a seat belt? Or would the damages likely have been the same?
With the advanced safety features now available in newer cars, vehicle occupants are often
protected in multiple ways; primarily through both front, side, and other air bag
combinations. Before air bags were commonplace, those who were not wearing seat belts were often thrown through windshields, suffering severe injuries and often death. These
types of injuries and death are thankfully far less common.
Allocating Fault at Trial
If a trial occurs, the jurors are entitled to apportion fault between the plaintiff (the person
injured) and the defendant (the person causing the accident). In this instance, upon
considering the injuries suffered by the plaintiff and the evidence at trial, it is possible that
the jury may allocate some of the fault to the plaintiff. If this is the case, then the ultimate
damages to the plaintiff would be reduced by multiplying the total amount of the damages
by the percentage of fault attributed to the plaintiff.