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The Seat Belt Defense: Another Good Reason to Wear a Seat Belt

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Wisonsin personal injury attorney, Wisonsin car crash lawyer, personal injury lawsuitThere are many good reasons to wear seat belts. For instance, they limit people's injuries in car accidents, and the law requires people to wear them. Yet, most people do not think about another benefit that comes from wearing seat belts: protection from the “seat belt defense” if the person is involved in a traffic accident. The seat belt defense is a controversial defense raised by the person who caused the accident, and it argues that the victim's damages should be reduced because they were not wearing their seat belt at the time of the crash. While only 15 states recognize this defense, Wisconsin is one of them, so drivers should be aware of how the defense operates.

The Seat Belt Defense

When one driver causes an accident with another, the driver who caused the accident is allowed to raise certain defenses that reduce the amount that the liable driver would otherwise pay to the victim to cover their injuries. One of these defenses is known as “failure to mitigate damages,” meaning that even though the liable driver was negligent, there were steps that the victim should have taken to reduce the harm that they suffered. If the jury is convinced that the victim had a duty to take those steps, the victim's damages can be reduced in proportion to the amount of harm that they could have prevented on their own.

The seat belt defense is one defense that falls within this realm. The defendant argues that had the victim been wearing a seat belt, their injuries would have been substantially less. Consequently, if the defendant succeeds on this defense, the victim may only recover for the injuries that they would have suffered if they had been wearing a seat belt. Importantly, Wisconsin law places a limit on the amount by which the jury can reduce damages. The jury may only deduct up to 15 percent of damages for failure to wear a seat belt.

Controversy over the Defense

The reason the defense is controversial is because there are sensible arguments on both sides. On the one hand, the law requires people to wear a seat belt. It makes sense to penalize people for failing to do so, especially when it would have kept them safe. Yet, the law can also be a harsh penalty. The small mistake of failing to wear a seat belt can end up costing a person tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in cases where there are severe injuries. In those cases, such a major punishment does not fit the minor mistake of not wearing a seat belt.

If you or one of your family members was recently injured in a traffic accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. Contact an experienced Milwaukee personal injury lawyer today to learn about your rights.

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