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Can failure to wear a seat belt be used against me in court?

In our last post, we mentioned that the number of traffic fatalities in West Virginia decreased in 2014 and that this is thought to be largely due to a stricter seat belt law. Well, it is not news that wearing a seat belt reduces the risk of serious injuries and fatality in the event of a car accident, and that failing to wear a seat belt is what most people would consider a failure to exercise reasonable care.  

That being said, violation of the seat belt law is actually not admissible as evidence of negligence, contributory negligence or comparative negligence in personal injury lawsuits. It may, however, be admitted by a special process to show that failure to wear a seat belt constituted failure to mitigate damages, which could ultimately lead to a limited reduction in damages. 

Under state law, courts may conduct a private hearing to determine whether the injured party’s failure to wear a seat belt was the proximate cause of his or her injuries. If the court finds that it is so, there may be a reduction in medical damages for the plaintiff. The amount of the reduction is capped, though, at five percent. In a jury trial, the jury may be the one to determine the amount of the reduction, though in cases where the plaintiff agrees to a five percent reduction, the issue doesn't go to the jury, but stays only with the judge.

Because the private hearing on this issue involves the demonstration of proximate cause, it is somewhat like a mini-trial before the judge. This process is just another example of why it is important to work with an experienced attorney when pursuing personal injury litigation. Doing so ensures that one’s interests will be advocated at each step along the way. 

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