Often times a personal injury attorney is confronted with a question from their client regarding the issue and impact of not wearing a seat belt when involved in a car or motor vehicle accident. As a general principal everyone should wear a seat belt while riding in a vehicle for their own safety. But in terms of a legal action not wearing a seat belt can give rise to a defense made by the negligent driver. This defense is referred to at the Seat Belt Defense.
In 1986 the Florida Legislature addressed the mandatory use of seat belts by the operators of motor vehicles and their passengers when they enacted the Florida Safety Belt Law found in Florida Statute 316.614. This law gave rise to the Seat Belt Defense which may be considered by the jury as evidence of comparative negligence.
In Ridley v. Safety Kleen Corp., 693 So.2d 934 (Fla. 1997), the Florida Supreme Court clarified the manner in which the seat belt defense may be used. The Court held that the defendant has an obligation to raise the failure to wear a seat belt as an affirmative defense under comparative negligence. The trial court must then inform the jury that violation of a traffic regulation mandating the use of seat belts constitutes evidence of negligence.
In addressing the victim’s or plaintiff’s damages when the seat belt defense is at issue, the Supreme Court in Ridely held that the jury should be instructed to calculate a single total percentage for comparative negligence. Therefore the jury is provided the responsibility of calculating what percentage of the damages arose from the failure to use a seat belt or in other words to determine the extent of the injury caused by the failure to wear a seat belt.
When contacting an attorney regarding a car or motor vehicle accident it is important to address the issue of a seat belt and identify and document whether a seat belt was worn at the time of the accident and whether the seat belt was fully operational.