Colorado law says “buckle up.” Most know that failure to wear
a seat belt in the front seats of a car will result in a traffic ticket.
However, many do not know that if you are injured in a car accident your
failure to wear a seat belt will also reduce the value of compensation
for your injuries.
Colorado statutes (C.R.S. 42-4-237) require that every driver of, and every
front seat passenger in, a motor vehicle equipped with a “safety
belt system” shall wear a fastened safety belt while the motor vehicle
is being operated on a street or highway in Colorado. If the vehicle is
equipped with a lap and shoulder belt, both must be worn to comply with
The statute goes on to say that, if a person claims for injuries from a
car accident, the injured person may
not recover compensation for damages for “pain and suffering”
damages that were
caused by the failure to wear the safety belt—no matter how negligent the
striking driver was to cause the car accident. “Pain and suffering”
damages that may be reduced by non-use of safety belts include inconvenience,
emotional stress and impairment of quality of life.
The striking driver (and his insurance company) can invoke the statute
to reduce the claim against him if there is any “competent evidence”
of safety-belt non-use even if there is limited or no evidence of a “causal
relationship” between the claimed injuries and the non-use of the
safety belt. In cases where the claim for damages may be decided by a
jury, courts have held that it is up to the jury’s “common
sense” to apportion pain and suffering damages between the injuries
associated with seat belt non-use and other claimed injuries.
A court recently considered whether the statute also may be applied in
criminal restitution cases. A driver who is criminally negligent and causes
a car accident, and the resulting injuries, must pay restitution in the
criminal case to all parties who were injured on account of his criminally
negligent conduct—unless the injured person was “grossly negligent”
to cause his own injuries. Fortunately, the Colorado court recently held
that a passenger’s failure to use a safety belt was not “gross
negligence” sufficient to reduce, or deny, that injured party’s
claim for restitution against the criminally negligent driver.
Insurance companies will diminish, and sometimes deny, car accident injury
claims if the police report does not affirm that the injured claimant
was wearing a safety belt at the time of the collision. But sometimes
the police report is wrong. For instance if the collision results in serious
injuries, often the first responders to the scene (fire department paramedics)
will detach the safety belt in order to evaluate the injuries and extract
the injured person from the vehicle. If the paramedics are not interviewed
by the police officer, the officer will not have any information to use
to confirm use of the safety belt. Sometimes a motor vehicle occupant
can sustain injuries, and lose consciousness, even in moderate speed impacts.
The occupant may, instinctively and without memory, unbuckle the safety
belt after the impact in a foggy attempt to exit the vehicle. When the
police officer comes upon the occupant in the vehicle, he has likely regained
consciousness and is sitting with the safety belt unbuckled—with
no memory of how the belt came unbuckled when the officer asks. The police
officer will likely indicate “no use” of the safety belt in
his report in that situation as well.
Experienced personal injury attorneys, such as those at Clawson & Clawson
LLP, are familiar with these situations and know how to develop the case
and evidence to support the use of safety belts in collisions. In some
cases, the seat belts must be removed and tested by experts who can confirm
the fibers and mechanisms reflect their use in the collision. If the insurance
company is denying your injury claim because there is no affirmation of
safety belt use in the police report, consider contacting the attorneys
at Clawson & Clawson LLP for a no-charge initial consultation to review
your accident case and to learn your options for presentation of your
case to the insurance company.