SEAT BELTS – When the accident isn’t your fault, but the injury might be!
As a personal injury attorney in the Phoenix metropolitan area, I’m often asked, “If I’m in a car accident and the other driver is 100% at fault, will I recover less because I wasn’t wearing a seat belt?” My response is always the same, “It depends.”
Arizona has a statute that deals specifically with seat belt requirements. A.R.S. § 28-909(A) requires the following:
Each front seat occupant of a motor vehicle that is designed for carrying ten or fewer passengers, manufactured for model year 1972 and thereafter and required to be equipped with seat belts pursuant to the federal motor vehicle safety standards shall either 1) have the lap and shoulder belt properly adjusted and fastened while the vehicle is in motion or 2) if only a lap belt is installed where the occupant is sitting, have the lap belt properly adjusted and fastened while the vehicle is in motion.
In other words, seat belts are the law and must be utilized. The question becomes, when a not-at-fault party is not wearing his/her seat belt, in violation of the law, and becomes injured, who’s responsible for the injury?
Arizona is a comparative fault state pursuant to A.R.S. § 12-2506 (sometimes called contributory fault). This means that the jury, after considering all of the evidence and arguments, will be charged with assigning fault for the accident to the applicable parties. This process is designed to attribute a percentage of fault to each party who contributed to the accident. In Law v. Superior Court, 157 Ariz. 147, 755 P.2d 1135 (1988), the Arizona Supreme Court held:
Under the comparative fault statute (A.R.S. § 12-506), each person is under an obligation to act reasonably to minimize foreseeable injuries and damages. Thus, if a person chooses not to use an available, simple safety device, that person may be at fault.
Therefore, even a plaintiff can be found at-fault for having made his/her resulting injuries worse because of his/her failure to buckle his/her seat belt. There should be no doubt about the benefits of wearing a seat belt and, as shown here, you may find yourself wholly or partially responsible for your own injuries, after a car crash that was not your fault, simply for choosing not to buckle up. However, if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation, it is important that you consult with an attorney because arguments remain that may prevent you from a dramatic reduction in your settlement recovery simply because you didn’t click it.
The information provided in this website is meant only as a general description of the current laws as of the date of the writing. It is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion of all the nuances of the law and is intended to be only an overview. Many issues may appear simpler than they are, and an individual should always contact an attorney to obtain a complete, accurate interpretation of the law given the individual’s particular circumstances. POUNDSTONE SCOTTEN, PLLC makes no representations as to how the law would affect a particular situation and intends only to illustrate areas of concern and give general information.