Most people know that failing to wear a seat belt in the car will result in a traffic ticket if you’re caught. However, many do not know that if you are injured in a car accident in Colorado, your failure to wear a seat belt will also, most likely, reduce the value of compensation for your injuries.
Colorado statutes (C.R.S. 42-4-237) require that every driver and 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.
The statute goes on to say that if a person files an injury claim after a car accident, the injured person may not recover compensation for damages for the “pain and suffering” that was caused by the failure to wear the safety belt, no matter how negligent the at-fault driver was. There are a variety of damages a person can recover through an injury claim, including economic damages like medical bills, property damage, and lost wages, and noneconomic bills such as pain and suffering.
“Pain and suffering” damages that may be reduced by non-use of safety belts include:
- Emotional stress
- Impairment of quality of life
The at-fault driver and their insurance company can invoke the statute to reduce your claim 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.
What if the Police Report Made a Mistake?
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. Sometimes, however, 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 the 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, they may find their safety belt unbuckled and the victim has 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.
However, failing to wear a seat belt doesn’t necessarily mean your pain and suffering damages will automatically be reduced – it’s simply a defense that the at-fault driver and insurance company can use, and you should anticipate they will use it. Coming prepared to prove that your pain and suffering wasn’t caused by failing to wear a seat belt, or showing that you were, in fact, wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident, you can avoid receiving less compensation than you deserve.
Call Us for Legal Representation
Experienced personal injury lawyers in Colorado Springs, 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 our auto accident attorneys 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.
Contact our team online or call our attorneys at (719) 602-5888 for a free case evaluation. We can put our 100+ years of combined experience to work for you.