Can I claim compensation if I was not wearing a seatbelt?
We are all aware that it is compulsory to wear a seatbelt when travelling in a motor vehicle. In fact it is a criminal offence not to wear a seatbelt. However failure to wear your seatbelt can have far wider consequences if you are injured in a road accident.
Most motorists and their passengers are aware that if they do not wear a seatbelt and are involved in an accident then any injuries they suffer are likely to be more severe as a result. This is a point which insurance companies have raised with the courts in the past. Judges have agreed that a reduction in the level of compensation should be made to take into account the fact that they were not wearing a seatbelt. In such cases a reduction of up to 25% will be made to take this factor into account. This is known as ‘contributory negligence’ on the part of the claimant.
The following general principles serve as a useful guideline:
- A reduction of 25% to the level of personal injury compensation if wearing a seatbelt would have avoided the injury completely;
- A reduction of 15% to the level of personal injury compensation if wearing a seatbelt would have significantly reduced the nature and extent of the injury; and
- No reduction in the level of compensation if wearing a seatbelt would not have made any difference to the injuries sustained.
There is often very little evidence to prove whether or not someone was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. Reports completed by ambulance crews or police accident reports often contain questions relating to whether or not the injured parties were wearing seatbelts. Unfortunately these are often not completed at the time of the accident or cannot be completed because the injured party is no longer in the vehicle by the time that the emergency services attend.
It is therefore often left to medical experts to assess whether a seatbelt was likely to have been worn. They can also comment on whether the claimant would have sustained injury had they been wearing a seatbelt and if so, whether that injury would have been as severe. It is only when these questions are answered that the issue of contributory negligence can be resolved.