Law Review: Another compelling reason to wear a seat belt |

Law Review: Another compelling reason to wear a seat belt

Seatbelts are required in California. However, surprisingly quite a few drivers and passengers don’t always use them.


Since 1975, seat belts have saved over 300,000 lives in the United States alone. When used properly, seat belts reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent, and prevent ejection from the car. Besides that, it is against the law to not wear a seat belt.


Here is another reason to always wear a seat belt that I bet you have never thought of. This wise tip comes from my partners who handle auto accident cases, which evolve into personal injury and/or wrongful death lawsuits. Listen up. This may surprise you.

If you are injured in an auto accident through no fault of your own — perhaps you are in a car hit by a negligent driver or are a passenger in a car driven by a negligent driver, i.e. the other person is at fault, not you — your ability to recover money from the negligent driver may be reduced if you are not wearing your seat belt.

For example, if you were a passenger in a Dodge RAM pickup, and were badly injured in a crash, but were not wearing your seat belt, your recovery could be reduced for that reason alone if not wearing the seat belt contributed to your injuries under the “Failure to Wear a Seatbelt” laws.

That was the case in Housley v. Godinez, where the jury found that the plaintiff-passenger in the pickup who sued, was 30 percent contributorily negligent for not wearing his seat belt, so his damage award was reduced by 30 percent.

In other words, even if you are injured by a negligent driver, any damages you may be entitled to could be reduced because you were not wearing your seat belt. I know you did not know that.


You know — perhaps from experience or maybe from watching TV — that whenever a lawsuit is heard by a jury, at the end of the case, after all of the evidence has been presented, the judge reads instructions to the jury providing them the California law that governs that particular type of case.

One such instruction — Failure to Wear a Seatbelt – comes into play when someone not wearing a seat belt is injured in a motor vehicle accident through another driver’s negligence.

The Affirmative Defense — Failure to Wear a Seatbelt Instruction to the jury (paraphrasing) reads like this:

The (negligent) defendant claims that the (injured)plaintiff was also negligent because he/she failed to wear a seatbelt. To succeed, the defendant (who was sued) must prove that: (a) a seatbelt was available; (b) a reasonably careful person would have used the seatbelt; (c) the injured plaintiff (who sued) failed to wear a seatbelt, and the injured plaintiff’s injuries would have been avoided or less severe if he/she had used the seatbelt.


Failing to wear a seat belt is not an automatic finding of negligence on the part of the injured party. However, as the Affirmative Defense — Failure to Wear a Seatbelt Jury Instruction reads — failure to actually wear your seat belt can be contributory or comparative negligence, thus reducing any damage award an injured plaintiff may otherwise receive.

Bottom line, always wear a seat belt and insist others in the car do so.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee, Tahoe City and Reno, Nevada. His practice areas include: development, construction, business, HOAs, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at or

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