You probably heard about the major accident that seriously injured comedian Tracy Morgan in June. Morgan was involved in a six-car accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. The accident occurred when the driver of a tractor trailer, who was driving for Walmart, failed to observe slow moving traffic and swerved into Morgan’s limo in an attempt to avoid hitting other vehicles. That caused a chain reaction, which resulted in the six-car pileup. One man in the limo was killed, and three others were also in critical condition as a result of the accident.
Morgan and others sued Walmart for their injuries. This week, Walmart filed an answer in the case which included nine defenses. One of the defenses was that Morgan and others failed to wear their seatbelts. Walmart claimed that by failing to exercise ordinary care in using the available seatbelts, Morgan acted unreasonably. Walmart argued that because Morgan and others failed to mitigate their losses by wearing a seatbelt, they cannot recover damages.
If you have been injured in an accident and you weren’t wearing your seatbelt, you may be curious about whether you can still sue for damages. After all, your injuries would most likely not have been as significant if you had chosen to buckle up. Every state with the exception of New Hampshire requires adults to wear seat belts while they are travelling in a motor vehicle.
Whether or not you can sue for damages depends on the state law of the state in which the lawsuit occurs. In California, there is something called the “seat belt defense”, which means a defendant in an automobile accident case is allowed to introduce evidence that the plaintiff was not wearing a seatbelt. This is done in order to affect the jury’s allocation of fault. The California legislature and courts have rationalized that while the accident may have been caused by the defendant’s negligence, the injuries for which the plaintiff sued were probably made worse by the failure to buckle up.
As an example, if you were injured in a car accident, a judge or jury may have decided that you are entitled to $100,000 in damages, which may include amounts for medical expenses, time off from work, pain and suffering, damages to your vehicle, and more. However, because you weren’t wearing your seatbelt, the judge or jury may decide that you are 50 percent responsible for your damages. Therefore, your award would be reduced from $100,000 to $50,000.
A car accident can affect every facet of your life. You may be recovering from serious injuries, or may be left with lifelong disabilities as a result of the accident. Your injuries could range from cuts and bruises to soft tissue injuries to catastrophic injuries to the head, neck, brain or spinal cord. You may be unable to work to provide for your family. You may be uncertain of where to turn.
After a car accident, it’s highly likely that the other party’s insurance company will call and make you a settlement offer right away. Although it can be tempting to take the cash, if you do you will sign a release of your claim. This means that later on, if more injuries develop, you will be prohibited from seeking additional money.
Instead, call a dedicated and experienced personal injury attorney to help with your case. A high quality attorney can help offer you advice on your legal rights and answer your questions. An attorney can also help you negotiate a settlement with the insurance company, or take the case to trial if you fail to reach an acceptable settlement. An attorney can advise you on the amount of damages that are reasonable in your case.
At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that automobile accident victims should pursue their rights to the full extent of the law. If you have been injured in an automobile accident in the San Francisco-Oakland area, call Micha Star Liberty, San Francisco automobile accident attorney, at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She can help you pursue claims from your accident. Call to learn more.