- Under Georgia law, all drivers and front-seat passengers are required to wear a seat belt while riding in a passenger vehicle; this law is enforced through police citation.
- · In car accident claims, you cannot be found negligent in any way for failing to wear a seat belt, and evidence that you weren’t belted is inadmissible at trial.
- · Even if it can be proven that your injuries were more severe because you weren’t wearing a seat belt, that evidence cannot be used to reduce your damages.
- · During settlement negotiations with the insurance company, you should never accept an offer that discounts your compensation amount based on not wearing a seat belt.
One of the most important functions of a seat belt is preventing drivers and passengers from being ejected during a car collision. In fact, CDC data shows that people are 30 times more likely to be ejected if they’re not wearing a seat belt. According to the CDC, the risk of being seriously injured in a car accident is cut by 50 percent and the risk of death is cut by 45 percent when the driver and front-seat passengers wear a seat belt.
Most people know they should be belted for safety reasons, but they may not always remember to wear a seat belt, especially when traveling short distances. You can be involved in an accident any time you’re riding in a car, though, so you need to know whether the failure to wear a seat belt can affect your legal claim.
This guide explains Georgia’s seat belt law and how failing to wear a seat belt cannot negate your claim or reduce the amount of compensation you receive for your injuries.
What is Georgia’s Seat Belt Law?
When more people use seat belts, there are fewer crash-related injuries and deaths on our roadways. To encourage seat belt use, states enacted laws that penalize people for not wearing them through police enforcement.
Under Georgia law, all drivers and front-seat passengers are required to wear a seat belt while riding in a passenger vehicle. O.C.G.A. § 40-8-76.1. In addition, children ages 8 through 17 must wear a seat belt even in the back seat, and all children under 8 must ride in a child restraint system appropriate for their age and size.
A “passenger vehicle” is defined as any motor vehicle designed to carry 10 or fewer passengers, such as cars, pickup trucks, vans, and SUVs. O.C.G.A. § 40-8-76.1. Motorcycles, off-road vehicles, or vehicles used for agricultural purposes are not considered passenger vehicles under the statute (meaning seat belts aren’t required).
If you violate the seat belt law, you could be ticketed and have to pay a fine of $50. For subsequent violations, you must pay larger fines and may receive points on your driver’s license.
How Seat Belts Have Little to Do with an Accident Claim
Because seat belt use is required by law, many people assume that car accident victims who weren’t wearing one may be found negligent. However, that isn’t true. The driver who caused the accident was negligent; whether the victim was wearing a seat belt doesn’t change that fact or affect the claim.
Under the statute, the failure to wear a seat belt “shall not be considered evidence of negligence or causation” and “shall not otherwise be considered by the finder of fact on any question of liability.” O.C.G.A. 40-8-76.1(d). Therefore, you cannot be held liable for failing to wear a seat belt as a matter of law.
Georgia is a comparative negligence state, which means that drivers are apportioned fault based on their respective behavior. In other words, even if the other driver was mainly responsible for the accident, you could still be found partially to blame if you did something to contribute to it.
But under Georgia law, the failure to wear a seat belt does not affect the negligence ratio in any way even though wearing one reduces the likelihood of injury. The reason is simple: wearing a seat belt doesn’t prevent car accidents, and failing to wear one doesn’t cause them.
Seat Belt Evidence and Car Accident Legal Claims
If you were involved in a car accident and weren’t wearing a seat belt, the police officer may give you a citation or mention it in the accident report. If so, you may wonder whether the at-fault driver’s insurance company can use that evidence at trial to argue that your injuries would have been less severe if you had been belted.
In addition, even though the law says you aren’t negligent, the jury might view your failure to wear a seat belt as a black mark against you. However, the law is clear that such evidence cannot be used to prove liability or diminish your recovery of damages.
In other words, the law holds the at-fault driver accountable—not the victim. To ensure that juries focus on who caused the accident rather than the victim not wearing a seat belt, judges keep the failure to wear one out of evidence at trial. Even if the insurance company tries to submit the evidence, the judge wouldn’t allow it because it’s inadmissible.
Does Not Wearing a Seat Belt Reduce Compensation for an Accident Victim?
No. Even if it can be proven that your injuries were more severe because you weren’t wearing a seat belt, that evidence cannot be used to reduce your damages. The law states that the failure to wear a seat belt cannot be “used to diminish any recovery for damages arising out of the ownership, maintenance, occupancy, or operation of a motor vehicle.” O.C.G.A. § 40-8-76.1(d). Thus, you are entitled to full compensation for your injuries regardless of whether you were wearing a seat belt.
How Insurance Companies View No-Seat-Belt Legal Claims
The at-fault driver’s insurance carrier is responsible for compensating the victim for all expenses and injuries arising from the accident. However, insurance companies always seek to protect their bottom line by paying as little as possible. The legal team representing the carrier will investigate the claim and look to expose any potential weaknesses.
It is common knowledge that failing to wear a seat belt can increase the severity of injuries, which means the insurance company is on the hook for larger medical bills and other costs. The carrier may use this evidence to justify a low offer during settlement negotiations, arguing that you share the blame for your losses.
But you should never accept an offer that discounts your compensation amount based on not wearing a seat belt. That evidence cannot be used against you at trial and cannot serve as the basis to diminish your recovery. If it can’t be used at trial, the insurance company shouldn’t be allowed to use it during settlement negotiations.
Our Lawyers Can Help
If you’ve been hurt in a car accident, you shouldn’t leave money on the table just because you weren’t wearing a seat belt. Our attorneys have many years of experience representing victims not wearing seat belts and can help you get full compensation from the insurance company. Call The Millar Law Firm today at (770) 400-0000 or contact us online to set up a free consultation with one of our attorneys.
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