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Seat belts have immense life-saving capabilities in automobile accidents. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts saved nearly 15,000 lives in 2017 alone. This was with a 90.4 percent national seat belt use rate. If you get into a car accident in Connecticut while you are not wearing a seat belt, you could still be eligible for financial compensation. You may face attempts to use this against you by a car insurance company, but state law does not allow this to bar a plaintiff from financial recovery.
Seat belts are mandatory for drivers, front-seat occupants and children in Connecticut. According to Connecticut General Statutes Section 14-100a, safety belts are required for the operator of a motor vehicle and any front seat passenger while the vehicle is being operated on any highway. This is a primary law, meaning law enforcement officers need no other reason to conduct a traffic stop or issue a seat belt ticket.
There is an exception for children under the age of eight, who must be restrained in the proper child safety seat device at all times. This means a rear-facing car seat, forward-facing car seat or booster seat depending on the child’s size. Children under the age of 16 must wear seat belts or use safety seats, as well. Finally, if the driver of the car is under the age of 18, all occupants must wear seat belts, regardless of age.
In some states, if state law required an individual to wear a seat belt at the time of the car accident but he or she failed to do so, the at-fault driver’s insurance company could use this as a reason to deny the claim. The argument is that since the person violated state law by failing to buckle up, he or she could bear at least partial responsibility for any related injuries. This can diminish the victim’s payout by an equivalent percentage in comparative negligence states.
Typically, a car insurance company in one of these states would have to prove that the injuries in question would most likely have been prevented or reduced had the victim been wearing a seat belt. If seat belt use feasibly would not have prevented the injuries, the seat belt defense generally cannot be used. If the victim was legally not required to wear a seat belt, the seat belt defense is also barred, in most states.
Under CGS Section 14-100a(c)(3), the failure to wear a seat belt cannot be considered contributory negligence or used as evidence in any civil action in Connecticut. This means that while you may face a fine of $92 to $120 for illegally failing to buckle up, this will be unrelated to your car accident case. Your lack of seat belt usage cannot be used as proof of contributory negligence for your injuries – meaning that an insurance company cannot use the fact that you weren’t wearing a seat belt as evidence that you exacerbated your injuries.
Connecticut’s specific exclusion of seat-belt-related evidence from civil actions has been upheld in multiple state cases over the years. One of these cases, Bower v. D’Onfro, concluded that the failure to wear a seat belt can in no way be involved in a car accident case, including to argue that the victim would not have suffered an injury but for the failure to wear a seat belt. Connecticut’s barring of the seat belt defense means that you don’t have to lie to an insurance company and say that you were wearing a seat belt if you weren’t. Your adherence to the state’s seat belt requirement will not be a factor in your injury claim.