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Does Not Wearing a Seatbelt Affect Your Car Accident Compensation?


Whether you’re a driver or a passenger, wearing a seatbelt is crucial to your safety. According to statistics, wearing a seatbelt can reduce fatality by 45% and decrease the risk of serious injury by half. Critically, New York State requires anyone over the age of 16 to wear a seatbelt while riding in a vehicle, while those under 16 must either wear a seatbelt or an appropriate child restraint system. 

Failure to wear a seatbelt can result in a monetary fine. More importantly, it can also be used as a defense by the at-fault driver in a personal injury lawsuit in the event you are hurt in an accident.     

What is the Seatbelt Defense Law in New York?

The “seatbelt defense” originated in New York in 1974 with a case heard by the New York Court of Appeals, Spier v. Barker. In this case, the court held that the jury could consider the nonuse of a seatbelt when determining the plaintiff’s damages. While a plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt has no relevance when it comes to establishing liability for an accident, it can have an impact on the amount of compensation they are awarded.

When the seatbelt defense is successfully applied, the damages the defendant owes to the plaintiff can be reduced by the percentage that the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seatbelt played in causing their injuries. Although the seatbelt defense does not fit the definition of comparative fault, it still points to a plaintiff’s obligation to mitigate their damages. In other words, by failing to wear a seatbelt, the plaintiff causes their injuries to be greater than they would have been.   

Specifically, an insurance adjuster or a defense attorney will compare the injuries you sustained to those you likely would have had if you were wearing a seatbelt. Notably, the seatbelt defense doesn’t allow the defendant to avoid liability altogether. It only reduces their responsibility for damages in connection with injuries that could have been prevented had you been restrained.

What Compensation Are You Entitled to After a Car Accident in New York?

Notwithstanding the seatbelt defense, a car accident victim in New York may be entitled to recover both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages cover the monetary impact your accident had on you. This category of damages typically includes the following:

  • Unreimbursed medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Future lost earnings
  • Property damage

Non-economic damages cover the pain and suffering a victim experienced as a result of their accident-related injuries. Specifically, these damages cover things like the inconvenience caused by the injuries, loss of consortium, and loss of society and companionship. The victim may also receive monetary compensation for the physical pain and emotional anguish connected with the accident.

There is no cap on the amount of economic or non-economic damages that can be awarded. However, New York’s comparative negligence doctrine applies. Not to be confused with the seatbelt defense, this rule reduces a plaintiff’s recovery by their proportion of fault for the accident. Importantly, a plaintiff may be eligible to receive compensation for their injuries in a personal injury action as long as they can demonstrate the other party’s liability, and are 99% or less at fault for the crash.

Contact an Experienced New York Personal Injury Attorney

If you were hurt in a car accident and were not wearing a seatbelt, it’s vital to have an experienced personal injury attorney by your side who can fight to obtain the compensation you deserve. For more than three decades, The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. has been advocating for the rights of car crash victims and securing favorable outcomes on their behalf.

The Dearie Law Firm, P.C. has convenient office locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, as well as mobile locations serving Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Westchester County, Rockland County, Nassau County, and Suffolk County. Contact us today for a consultation.