How Wearing a Seat Belt Affects Liability in a Car Accident
Jared: Hi, I'm Jared Richards. I'm one of the partners here at Clear Counsel Law Group. One of our readers has said that his son was ... he has a handicapped son. His son was a passenger in somebody else's vehicle. The passenger slammed on the brakes. They didn't actually get into an accident, but slamming on the brakes threw the handicapped son forward and the son was not wearing his seat belt. The father was asking if he can make a claim against the driver. The answer is yes, probably.
There are two things here that caused the injury. One was the slamming on the brakes. Two was the lack of a seat belt. Now on the first one, it depends on whose fault it was that the person had to slam on the brakes. If the person just was not anticipating traffic properly and had to slam on the brakes to prevent hitting the person in front of him, then the driver may be at fault here. If the driver had to slam on the brakes to avoid an unanticipated accident, something there's no way he could have anticipated, then the driver probably isn't responsible.
What we do here is we compare the son's negligence which for the accident, which is nothing because he's just sitting there, and the driver's negligence for the accident. If the driver is at all negligent for slamming on the brakes, if it at all wasn't a good idea, if there was something other option he could have done to prevent the need to slam on the brakes, then that driver should be responsible for the injury.
The next question is the seat belt. That actually gets into a very interesting question, because in the state of Nevada you can't use the lack of seat belt use as a defendant to show that you're not responsible for the injury. Quite frankly, this is a really good example because the son's lack of wearing a seat belt did not actually cause the mechanism of the injury. The mechanism of the injury was a sudden stop by the car. His lack of using a seat belt is not responsible for that.
Normally, in most instances, evidence of seat belts do not come in. This is an interesting question, and I'm not completely sure how a court would address it. I can tell you what I think a court ought to do. If the issue is who is responsible for putting on the seat belt, we look at the handicapped son. If he's so handicapped that he really can't put on the seat belt himself, then I think a court should hold that the driver's responsible for not putting on the seat belt. I think the driver had probably the duty to do it. However, there's a possibility that a court might say no, no, no. The statute says I can't consider seat belt use, so they wouldn't do it.
I'm really not sure how that plays out. If the son is able to put on the seat belt himself, then of course it's not the driver's responsibility if the son didn't. Brian, it looks like you have a question.
Brian: Would be there a difference if the driver is a paid employee of the family as opposed to just a friend of the family?
Jared: Not necessarily. It might make a difference as to what the driver's duties are. You might have different duties as an employee, as a driver, than you would as just simply a friend who's picking up the friend's son. We just use common sense here and we look and see whose responsibility was it truly for the son to wear the seat belt.
Anyway, the short answer is if the person was negligent for slamming on the brakes, then regardless of seat belt use, the driver is responsible for the injury. The second tier is let's say the driver had no control. It's not his fault for needing to slam on the brakes. Is it anybody's fault that the son was hurt? I think that fairness says that if it was the driver's responsibility to use the seat belt, then the driver probably should be responsible, but I'm not 100% sure on how a court's going to address that. Anyway, if you have any other questions, give us a call. We're happy to help.