If you were in a car accident in Virginia and not wearing a seat belt, you may still have a claim for your damages, despite Virginia’s unusually strict negligence laws.
What negligence law does Virginia follow?
Virginia is one of only a handful of states that follows a pure contributory negligence rule. This rule states that if a driver is even one percent at fault, s/he will be unable to recover any compensation for damages.
So if the insurer can prove that you contributed to the accident in any way, you will be unable to recover any compensation.
However, while not wearing a seat belt might contribute to your injuries, seat belt use will not bar your claim for compensation under Virginia’s contributory negligence laws.
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Why does Virginia’s contributory negligence law not bar my claim?
Although Virginia’s contributory negligence laws should, by definition, bar you from recovering compensation as you violated a statute and contributed to the severity of your injuries, Virginia law forbids parties from using the violation as an example of negligence. The statute states,
A violation of this section shall not constitute negligence, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence or be the subject of comment by counsel in any action for the recovery of damages arising out of the operation, ownership, or maintenance of a motor vehicle, nor shall anything in this section change any existing law, rule, or procedure pertaining to any such civil action.
So, in addition to being unable to use a seat belt violation as a way to claim contributory negligence and bar you from recovery, the other party’s insurer cannot use it as a way to lower your damages amount either.
What is the law in Virginia on wearing seat belts?
Virginia law [Code of Virginia § 46.2-1094] requires all drivers and passengers under 18 to wear a seat belt. Every occupant, regardless of age, must wear a seat belt in the front seat.
If an officer pulls you over and you or your passengers are not wearing a seat belt, you could face a $25 fine.
Does the law require all drivers and passengers to wear seat belts?
No. While all drivers and passengers should wear seat belts at all times, the following people are exempt:
- Taxi drivers and passengers
- Passengers over 18 in the back seat
- Persons with medical conditions that would make wearing a seat belt impractical (need doctor’s note)
- Newspaper delivery personnel
- Letter carriers
- Utility meter readers
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So why should I wear a seat belt?
Even though the fine for failure to wear a seat belt is minimal, and not wearing a seat belt will not prevent you from recovering damages if you are in a car accident in Virginia, you should always wear a seat belt, whether you are a driver or a passenger, and whether you are riding in the front or back seat. Seat belts save lives and reduce injuries.
In Virginia, almost 52 percent of the people who died in fatal traffic crashes in 2014 were not wearing seat belts. Over 3,750 people who were injured in accidents in 2014 were unrestrained.
According to the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, wearing a seat belt could decrease your risk of suffering fatal injuries by 60 percent.
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Where can I get help with my accident case in Richmond?
Even though the statute forbids parties from using your seat belt use against you to prove negligence or decrease your damages, you can be sure the insurer will do what it can to lower your settlement amount in some other way. This might include claiming that you were speeding, driving while distracted, intoxicated, or drowsy, or that you contributed to the accident in some other way.
If the insurer is successful, you will not be able to recover even $1 for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. This means that you could be stuck paying tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for your accident expenses.
For this reason, you need a knowledgeable car accident lawyer who has experience dealing with tricky insurers.
The team at Tronfeld, West & Durrett has been helping Virginia residents with their injury claims since 1972. We stay up-to-date on all law changes and anything else that could affect your claim.
To see how we might help you with your claim, check out our recent case results and our free resources.
To schedule a free consultation to discuss your case, call us today at 804-358-6741.