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Legal impacts if you're in a crash without wearing a seat belt

You're heading home one night after seeing a movie with some friends. Just as you pull out of the theater parking lot into the road, a speeding driver runs a red light and plows into your passenger side door. Your body is thrust hard into the driver side door. You suffer a concussion, whiplash and a broken collarbone. You know the other driver broke at least two traffic laws-speeding and running through a red light. They're clearly at fault, right?

There's just one complicating wrinkle. You didn't fasten your seat belt before you left the parking lot-which is also a violation of Georgia law. Today we examine how this failure could impact your case:

Georgia seat belt law

Under Georgia law, anyone in the front seat of an operating motor vehicle on a public road must be wearing a seat belt-except under very specific circumstances. In addition, any minor child age eight or older must wear a seat belt whenever they are in an operating motor vehicle-regardless of where in the vehicle they are seated. Furthermore, any child under the age of eight must be fastened into a child passenger restraining system whenever they ride in a motor vehicle.

Car crash without a seat belt

In the above example, you would probably expect to file a personal injury claim and receive restitution for your physical injuries as well as any damage to your car. The defendant, however, can claim that because you did not wear a seat belt, you made your injuries more serious. For this reason, they will claim, their liability should be reduced-or even eliminated. This argument is called the "seat belt defense."

The seat belt defense is a highly contentious defense. Only 15 states permit the use of this defense in court-and Georgia is one of them. Using this defense, experts will try to assess what injuries you would have sustained if you had been wearing a seat belt. The goal of this defense is to minimize the fault of the defendant, because you can only file a claim for damages they caused.

The seat belt defense can make a personal injury claim tricky, because it takes some theorizing and guess work to determine how a collision would have played out if one factor in the scenario were altered. In such situations, it's particularly important to have an experienced personal injury attorney who can strategically counteract this defense.

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