Last Update: 01/13/16
As most of us know in Florida, there is a law that requires all drivers and passengers to wear a seat belt. The Florida Safety Belt Law, which is also known as Florida Statute 316.614, states:
(4) It is unlawful for any person:
(a) To operate a motor vehicle in this state unless each passenger and the operator of the vehicle under the age of 18 years are restrained by a safety belt or by a child restraint device pursuant to s. 316.613, if applicable; or
(b) To operate a motor vehicle in this state unless the person is restrained by a safety belt.
(5) It is unlawful for any person 18 years of age or older to be a passenger in the front seat of a motor vehicle unless such person is restrained by a safety belt when the vehicle is in motion.
What Happens If You Are In a Car Crash and Not Wearing Your Seat Belt?: Do You Lose Your Injury or Damages Claim?
First things first. If you don’t wear a seat belt, you can receive a traffic ticket for violating this law. The bigger issue, however, is this: if someone is involved in a car accident in Florida and they were not wearing a seat belt, then are they barred from recovering any damages in the accident?
The answer for violating the Florida safety belt law is that it does not prevent a damages claim. In legal language, violating the seatbelt statute is not “negligence per se” under Florida law.
However, the injured victim can expect the lawyers on the other side and the insurance adjusters to point to the victim’s failure to wear a seat belt at the time of the crash. That fact, will be a large part of their arguments of the victim’s negligence and shared liability for the injuries as well as mitigation of the damages that they would be legally required to cover.
Children and Seat Belts
In Florida, there are special laws in place to protect kids in car accidents. If a child is hurt in an accident and was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, that failure to have seat belt protection will not bar a recovery of damages.
For example, if a mother and daughter are going to the mall to shop and the daughter stubbornly refuses to wear her seat belt and Mom gives in, and there is a crash — what happens? There is a common law duty in Florida to protect minors. The court may appoint a guardian to represent the child’s interest in the case. (Please note, under the bodily injury liability provision, most insurance policies have an exclusion that says that family members can’t recover for their injuries against a driver who is also a family member. However, a child, or other family member, can still collect from the parent/driver personally.)
That guardian, acting on behalf of the daughter, can sue the mother for negligence damages to cover the injuries that the daughter sustained in the crash. This is a valid injury claim even if the daughter is close to the age of majority (say, 17 years and 7 months) and even if the daughter made the decision not to wear the safety device. See, Cybroski v. Wright, 927 So. 2d 1089 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist. 2006).
What is The Seat Belt Defense in Florida?
As I mentioned, when a victim is not wearing a seat-belt in a Florida traffic accident, there is an extensively litigated defense available to the person who is being asked to pay for the damages. The defense team (defense lawyer, insurance adjuster, etc.) will argue that the amount to be covered must be reduced because of the victim’s failure to wear a safety belt. They may even argue that the claim should be dismissed.
Injury victims who failed to be wearing a seat belt at the time of a Florida car accident can expect to hear defense evidence like:
1. The car was new or almost new;
2. The car had built-in seat belts;
3. The seat belts had been used before;
4, The seat belts were operational at the time of the crash;
5. The seat belts were available for use at the time of the accident; and
6. The injuries sustained by the victim are directly related to the failure to use a safety belt.
Experts are often called upon to testify as to their opinions in these cases, and are normally asked whether the failure of the injured person to use a seat-belt caused or contributed to the victim’s injuries and if the injuries would have been lessened or eliminated had the victim been wearing a fully functional seat-belt. In fact, victims can be found comparatively negligent if he or she fails to wear a fully and operational seat belt. Here, doctors and accident experts review the accident facts, examine the medical records, etc., and give their determinations on whether or not the plaintiff’s lack of a seat belt at the time of the accident was the cause or a substantial contribution to his or her injuries.
What Should You Do?
A good piece of advice if you have been harmed in an accident, is to at least speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.
- Fault, Blame, and Damage Claims: Contributory Negligence in Florida
- Car Accidents: Driver’s Duty to Passengers
- What is Reckless Driving Under Florida Law? Were You Injured in a Car Accident Caused By a Reckless Driver?
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.
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