As a personal injury lawyer, I commonly get asked the question about the requirement of wearing a seat belt and how this plays out in an accident.
The seat belt statute provides, in part:
(4) It is unlawful for any person
(a) To operate a motor vehicle unless each front seat passenger of the vehicle under the age of 16 years is restrained by a safety belt or by a child restraint device pursuant to s. 316.613, if applicable, or
(b)To operate a motion vehicle in this state unless the person is restrained by a safety belt.
(5) It is unlawful for any person 16 years of age or older to be a passenger in the front seat of a motor vehicle unless such person is restrained by a safety belt when the vehicle is in motion.
Subsection ten (10) of F.S. 316.614 discusses how the seat belt statute should be used in a civil action:
A violation of the provisions of this section shall not constitute negligence per se, nor shall such violation be used as prima facie evidence of negligence or be considered in mitigation of damages, but such violation may be considered as evidence of comparative negligence, in any civil action.
Clearly, this statute requires the use of a seat belt and makes some penalties if you do not wear the seatbelt. However, while the statute does not make the failure of wearing a seatbelt negligence automatically, it can be used as evidence of comparative fault, in any civil action.
An example would be as follows. Robert is a front seat passenger in a vehicle. As a result of the negligence of the other vehicle, there is a car accident. Robert is not wearing his seat belt. He goes through the front windshield, causing significant scarring to his face along with some other injuries caused solely from the impact. The other front seated person was wearing their seat belt and has minor injuries. The defense may argue in the case that had Robert been wearing his seat belt, that he would not have gone through the front windshield and would not have the scarring on his face. The suggestion by the defense would be that the jury should not award Robert the damages for his scarring but only the damages for the other injuries, due to his comparative negligence. Of course, this would ultimately be decided by a jury and the facts of every case are different.
Common sense suggests that everyone should wear their seat belts. There are cases reported in the newspapers where in major accidents when people where seat belts, the injuries are generally much less. There are accidents where the only people in major car accidents with life changing injuries are those who were NOT wearing their seat belts.
If you have been in an accident, please feel free to call me for a free consultation. I work on a contingency fee basis which means that I only charge a fee or recoup costs if money is recovered for you.