You already know that wearing a seatbelt is required by law in Virginia for drivers and passengers over 18 years of age when they’re in the front seat of a motor vehicle (according to § 46.2-1094).
But what if you forgot to put on your seatbelt or simply chose not to wear it, and you were involved in an accident? In light of this mistake, can you still sue the other driver who caused the accident?
The good news is yes. Failure to wear a seatbelt usually does not affect your car accident lawsuit. In this article, we’ll explain more about Article 12 of Virginia’s Title 46.2 Motor Vehicles statute and how it may apply to your case.
Is Not Wearing a Seatbelt Considered Negligence?
Often, accident victims are worried they won’t be able to sue the other driver because they think that not wearing a seatbelt is considered negligence. In Virginia, the state applies a contributory negligence standard to all negligence cases, including car accidents.
What this means is that even if a plaintiff is only partially at fault, even as little as 1%, monetary recovery is totally barred. This strict interpretation of negligence is left over from the days of the English Commonwealth. While many states have shifted to a more forgiving comparative negligence standard, Virginia still follows a contributory negligence analysis in personal injury cases.
However, despite this strict rule, not wearing a seatbelt does not make an accident victim negligent for two reasons:
- The accident happened independent of the seatbelt issue. Think of it like this – did the lack of the seatbelt cause the accident? No, of course not. The accident was caused by the conduct of the driver. Whether or not you were wearing your seatbelt did not contribute to the accident’s cause.
- Virginia state law says that violating the seatbelt law does not “constitute negligence.” Therefore, even though not wearing a seatbelt may be considered personally negligent, it is not negligent in the eyes of Virginia law when it comes to the factors in a motor vehicle accident.
Another piece of positive news is that the law does not allow for damages to be reduced for lack of wearing a seatbelt. Traditionally, a plaintiff in a civil claim had to show that they mitigated damages, or their award would be lessened. By this logic, not wearing a seatbelt may increase the severity of injuries, which, in turn, could limit monetary recovery. However, this is not the case in Virginia. The injured party can still recover the full extent of their injuries, even if they weren’t wearing a seatbelt.
Exceptions to the Seatbelt Law
In some cases, you may have had a legitimate excuse for not wearing a seatbelt. Virginia allows for several exceptions to the seatbelt law, including:
– Individuals with an exemption from a licensed physician
– Law enforcement officials engaged in duties that make wearing a seatbelt impractical, including transporting someone in custody and enforcing parking codes
– Rural mail carriers and newspaper route carriers
– Taxicab drivers and passengers
– Municipal workers engaged in deliveries or collections of goods and services
– Meter readers
Request a Free Consultation
Though the lack of a seatbelt may not adversely affect your case, there are, of course, exceptions. To determine whether you have a viable personal injury claim against the other driver, we recommend getting in touch with an attorney to discuss the details.
At Geoff McDonald & Associates, P.C., we provide a free consultation. Get in touch today.