How Does Seat Belt Usage Affect a Car Accident Claim in Wisconsin?
Any automobile sold or operated in the state of Wisconsin must be equipped with proper working safety belts. All drivers and passengers above the age of four are required to wear seat belts when the vehicle is in use, and children under the age of four must be properly restrained in a child safety seat. Children over the age of four must use a booster seat until they are eight years old, over 80 pounds, or taller than 4’9”. Since a car crash can happen in the blink of an eye, seat belts are designed to reduce injuries and save lives. However, what if a person who was injured in a car accident was not wearing a seat belt? Can they still recover compensation from an at-fault driver?
What Is the Primary Enforcement Seat Belt Law?
Seat belt laws across the United States are divided into two categories: primary and secondary. 34 states, including Wisconsin, have enacted the primary option, which allows law enforcement to issue a ticket to the driver or passenger who is not wearing a seat belt, regardless of whether another traffic offense took place. For these offenders, the state of Wisconsin will issue a fine of $10, although there will be no points assigned to a person's record.
With the help of seat belt laws and aggressive awareness campaigns, seat belt usage is on the rise throughout our country. Seat belt compliance has shown an increasing trend since 2000, leading up to an 89.6% national usage rate in 2018. Wearing a seat belt provides an extra level of protection; 14,955 lives were saved by seat belt use in 2017. Ejection from a car or an airbag injury could result if an accident takes place when seat belts are not used.
How Can Seat Belt Usage Factor into a Lawsuit?
First, a victim must establish that they have a right to recover under Wisconsin civil law. Contributory negligence, which is also referred to as comparative negligence, may apply in an auto accident in which a victim may be partially at fault for his or her injuries. In any Wisconsin civil lawsuit, if it is determined that the injured party was less than 51% at fault for the consequences of the accident, that victim may seek compensation from the other party or parties. In situations in which multiple parties suffered damages or injuries, each party’s percentage of fault will be determined. For example, if a five-car pileup were to occur, and one driver was found 60% at fault, he or she would not be eligible to seek compensation, but the other drivers or their passengers would be able to seek compensation from that driver. The amount these parties would be able to recover would be reduced by their own percentage of fault for the accident and the damages suffered.
Once it is established that a victim has a right of recovery in a civil lawsuit, the victim’s failure to wear a seat belt or abide by seat belt laws is admissible evidence, and this may be used to show that a person was partially at fault for their own injuries. However, Wisconsin law states that the amount of compensation a person can recover cannot be reduced by more than 15% if they were not wearing a seat belt.
If a defendant plans to use the “seat belt defense,” they will need to retain an appropriate expert witness to demonstrate that the victim’s injuries were partially caused by their failure to wear a seat belt. The plaintiff’s attorney will be able to cross-examine this witness, and the plaintiff may provide their own witnesses to demonstrate the causes and extent of their injuries.
Contact a Green Bay Personal Injury Lawyer
Whether a person is in a hurry, distracted, or simply forgot to buckle up, not wearing a seat belt can be very dangerous. However, if you or a loved one have suffered a serious injury or wrongful death due to a car accident, you may still be able to recover compensation, regardless of your compliance with seat belt laws. At Herrling Clark Law Firm, Ltd., our dedicated Appleton car accident attorneys will work with you to determine your best course of action. To schedule a free consultation, please call our office today at 920-739-7366.