Seatbelts are installed in our cars to enhance our safety in case of an accident. When a seat belt fails, a small impact can result in severe injuries to the occupants compared to those with functioning seat belts. When the police find you driving or as a passenger over the age of 16 without a seat belt on, you will be subjected to base fine. However, seat belts can fail as a mechanical problem or due to their design. If you are involved in an accident, and your safety belt fails, your injuries can be made more severe. Unfortunately, most insurance companies may frustrate you when seeking damages. This makes it essential to speak to a personal injury lawyer to help you with your claim. Get in touch with The LA Personal Injury Law Firm to get much-needed assistance in seeking compensation for your damages.
What are Some of the Common Failures of a Safety Belt
Many things can go wrong with your safety belt. Some of these include manufacturer’s defaults, defaults in design and installation of the belts in your vehicle. Some of the most common issues you will face with your seat belts will include:
- Inertial unlatching – the impact following an accident can result in the belts getting unlatched. When this happens, the vehicle occupant will not be safely secured on their seat and can easily be thrown out of the vehicle, enhancing the injuries they suffer.
- False latching – sometimes, when you engage your safety belt, it may seem like it is secure. Unfortunately, sometimes a safety belt may fail to engage while you thought it is fully. This would leave you vulnerable to even the slightest impact.
- Webbing defects – the reason seat belts are installed in vehicles is to enhance safety from accidents by securing the vehicle occupant on their seat. This means the material used to make them must be able to withstand the force of an impact. Sometimes, the material may rip, reducing the strength of the belt. When this happens, and an impact occurs, the belt can give way or get torn apart.
- Failure of the retractor – a safety belt retractor is supposed to secure and hold a vehicle occupant to their seat. If upon impact, the retractor gives way, the occupant is left vulnerable and can suffer enhanced injuries.
- Inadequately mounted systems – anchor systems that are mounted on the seats of vehicles are more effective compared to others. When the mounting is done poorly, the seat belts will not be as effective, primarily upon impact.
There are, however, many other defects or issues that can happen with your seat belt. Unfortunately, if you are involved in an accident, and your seat belt unlatches, the insurance adjuster may raise the seat belt defense. This is where they claim your negligence to put on a safety belt was the reason for your severe injuries even though it failed you.
Following an Accident, Can One Claim Damages if their Safety Belts Failed?
Fortunately, the state of California does not bar an accident victim from seeking compensation if their safety belt failed. Even when you are guilty of a traffic offense or breaking the law, this does not excuse the insurance company from compensating for any damages suffered.
Unfortunately, if the case goes to trial, seat belt failure defense may be used against you in court. The defendant will bring this as a defense against paying you the damages you are seeking and instead pay less. If the defendant manages to convince the court that the damages were caused due to your negligence, the jury will be forced to consider this when awarding damages.
California is a comparative fault state. This means damages are awarded according to the degree of fault for the parties involved. In such a case, the jury will determine what percentage of the damages you should carry yourself and what the insurance can compensate for.
In order to determine whether you are at fault and to what level your negligence contributed to the damages suffered, the jury will consider the following:
- Whether the seat belts were in proper working condition
- Whether a reasonable and careful person under similar circumstances would believe the safety belts were in proper condition
- If the safety belts failed in restraining occupants in place
- Whether the injuries the victim suffered would be less significant if their safety belts did not fail.
When all this is determined and found to be true, it may significantly determine the amount of damages you will receive.
Can a Passenger Whose Safety Belt Failed Sue for Damages Following an Accident?
Just like drivers that are involved in an accident where safety belts fail, if you were an occupant in a vehicle and the seat belt failed when the accident occurred, you are still entitled to compensation. The insurance company can also bring the claim that you do not deserve a particular amount of compensation because you were negligent if the belt unlatched.
In California, any person over the age of 16 in a vehicle must have their seat belts on. The jury will decide if the occupants were negligent or the safety belt failed. Negligence warrants for shared fault and, as a result, reduced damages to the victims.
Unfortunately for the vehicle driver or owner, the passenger can sue you to recover more damages. With their lawyer, they can argue that as the vehicle owner or driver, you are liable for the injuries partially. This may be based on the fact that you are expected to ensure the safety belts are in good working conditions, and your passengers are well secured.
For this and many other reasons, you need an experienced personal injury lawyer to negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf for damages. If your lawyer and the insurance company do not agree, and the case goes to trial, your lawyer can legally argue against their claims and present alternative evidence. Through the efforts of your injury lawyer, you are likely to get better compensation for your damages.
Filing an Insurance Claim for Damages
As earlier stated, seat belt failure will not be barred from seeking claims for damages suffered. When an accident happens, there are certain things you must do that will serve as evidence for the accident and determining the fault party. These, we will discuss later in the article. When an accident occurs, all parties involved are investigated to determine who was responsible for the crash. This is particularly important when it comes to allocating damages suffered.
It is always best to ask a personal injury lawyer to pursue your claim for you. What every attorney will tell you, following an accident, do not admit fault no matter the pressure from the other party. Similarly, never apologize for the crash because it can be taken to mean you were apologizing because you were responsible for it.
After the initial happenings at a crash scene and seeking medical treatment, you need to get in touch with a personal injury lawyer. It is always a bad idea to get in touch with the insurance company of the other party involved in the accident. Your best option to ensure you get your rightful compensation is to let your lawyer engage the insurance company on your behalf.
When you suffer damages in a crash, the insurance company of the at-fault driver must pay you damages suffered. Your lawyer will get in touch with the insurance company with a claim for your damages. The claim is typically accompanied by a police report of the accident, photos of the accident scene, and evidence of the damages suffered. This may include pictures of the injuries, doctor’s reports, and sometimes, witness statements.
Upon receiving the claim, the insurance company, through their adjuster, will investigate your claim and decide to pay or to decline your claim and make a counteroffer. The insurance company may claim that you are partially to blame for the damages suffered. This can be when they establish your safety belts were torn or were not in proper working condition.
Your lawyer will be able to argue that failure of the seat belts was not the cause of the accident, but you suffered those damages because their client caused the accident. However, you must be prepared as earlier discussed to be apportioned blame if it is established that you were negligent in caring for the belts.
Before the insurance company accepts their client is liable and pays the damages, they will investigate the accident. This is aimed at determining:
- What happened and lead to the accident as well as trying to establish who was at fault and
- The damages claimed what their extent and nature is.
Insurance companies are profit-making entities. This means that they will be careful before making payments. Through their investigations and their findings, they may either accept or decline the claim and make a counteroffer. Your lawyer, in this case, will negotiate with them, but if an agreement is not reached, you may institute a suit through the court seeking damages.
The insurance company may deny your claim or reduce the amount of damages you are seeking based on multiple reasons. Some of these may include:
- Their client was not entirely liable for the accident, but you were at fault too
- The injuries you suffered were made more significant due to your negligence when you failed to ensure the safety belts were working properly
- The invoices presented for medical costs and property damages were exaggerated
- The injuries you claim to have suffered are not due to the accident but from the failed safety belts
- The seat belts in your car were faulty, and they failed.
These, among other factors, are what an insurance company may claim to avoid paying you damages.
Who is at Fault when a Safety Belt Fails
If the injuries you sustained were as a result of the failed seat belts, the fault could be for the vehicle manufacturer and the designer of the safety belts. Designers are tasked with ensuring they create belts that securely protect vehicle occupants from the impact of a crash. Unfortunately, this does not always happen.
When seat belts are made and fitted in a vehicle, the manufacturer and the designer test them to ensure they meet the safety standards. The standards, however, keep changing and improving. Designers, as well as manufacturers, are encouraged to keep up with the technology.
In the beginning, we discussed the responsibility of a driver or vehicle owner. It is the responsibility of the driver or vehicle owner to ensure seat belts are working correctly. Unfortunately, one can have a seat belt on, but when an accident occurs, the seat belt fails to do what it is supposed to do, which results in enhanced injuries.
In such a case, even as you seek damages from the at-fault entity, an investigation will be carried out to determine what caused the seat belt to fail. If a defect is found on the seat belts, the vehicle manufacturer may be held partially liable for the injuries suffered.
What Happens if the Other Driver’s Safety Belt Failed
Again, as earlier discussed, a fault of the safety belt or failure to have it on is not the cause of an accident; it only aggravates the injuries suffered. If the other driver is responsible for the accident and their safety belt fails, his insurance provider will still pay you for damages caused.
If the fault of the accident is shared, he or she will also be able to seek compensation for the damages from your insurance provider.
After an Accident, What you Need to Do to Help with your Claim
When an accident occurs, you are likely to suffer damages both to your car and your body. This is irrespective of who caused the accident. Or if the seat belt failed when the crash happened. As earlier stated, even when your safety belt gave way, you will still be entitled to compensation for damages.
When your lawyer presents your claim for compensation to the insurance company, or the case goes to trial, you need substantial evidence to accompany the claim. The evidence you collect at the scene of the accident will help determine the party at-fault and support your claim for compensation. Following an accident, there are various things you need to do. These are:
- Call 911. You need to report the accident to the relevant authorities to send the police to the scene. Secondly, you need the operator to send an emergency rescue team to give the injured first aid or take them to the emergency room. Always remember your safety and wellbeing is more important. Do not stay at the scene if you are seriously injured.
- If you are not very injured, and other victims have significant injuries, you can try to help them if you can and move them to safety.
- If you can, take pictures of the accident scene from various angles. Pictures are essential pieces of evidence when you want to show the at-fault party. A video of the scene, if possible, is also crucial and the surrounding. It is also essential to take pictures or videos of the failed safety belt and share the same with your lawyer.
- If you can engage the other driver, get their details. This will include their name, insurance provider, address, and details about their car. However, through it all, never admit fault or apologize for the accident.
- If there are any witnesses at the scene, ensure to talk with them and get their details should they be needed to testify.
- After the police have come and you have been treated for any injuries, you need to get in touch with a personal injury lawyer to help you with your claim.
- Report the accident to your insurance company as well as the DMV as by the law.
Injuries Suffered in an Accident when the Seat Belt Fails
It may not be easy to detect injuries due to seat belt failure. However, an accident where seat belts fail can result in seriously enhanced injuries. When you are involved in a road accident, there are multiple kinds of injuries a person can suffer from. Some of them can be life-altering, while others will require a short amount of time to recover from. Some of the common injuries include:
- Head, neck, and back traumas or injuries – these are injuries common, especially when a vehicle occupant’s safety belt fails. Following the impact of the crash, an occupant or driver of a vehicle can be thrown out of the car through the windscreen if not secured with a safety belt. This can lead to severe injuries in the head of the victim as well as their back and neck.
- Lost limbs – some accidents can be so severe that a victim loses his or her limb. This is a severe injury that can be extremely traumatizing to the victim.
- Broken Bones – depending on the impact, one can suffer broken or fractured bones. This makes it essential for one to always be safely secured by a seat belt. When the impact is severe, a safety belt holds you in place and protects you from being thrown around to break your bones. However, when the safety belt fails, you are left vulnerable to various injuries.
- Soft tissue injuries –These kinds of injuries can be treated easily, and the victim heals within a short time. A safety belt can also hold the victim in place to ensure they do not hit against the vehicle to suffer the injuries. Even when the impact is not as forceful, a failure of the safety belts can lead to these injuries.
- Disfigurement – some accidents can be so severe that they can lead to serious disfigurement of the victim. This may include losing their teeth, breaking their nose, or any other facial injuries. If your safety belt doesn’t fail, it may protect you against hitting the dashboard that may result in breaking your nose or losing teeth.
Damages You Can Claim
An accident leads to various kinds of damages for the victim. Some of the damages can be permanent, requiring prolonged medical treatment, while others can be short-lived. Other damages can be to the property, which refers to your car in a collision. Sometimes your vehicle can suffer damage that can be repaired, and other times it may require it to be replaced. Irrespective of the level of damages, compensation for damages is allowed by the law. The damages a victim of an accident can recover are divided into two; these are economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages are the damages that can be supported with evidence that places a monetary value on them. On the other hand, non-economic damages do not have a value placed on them, but the extent of damages typically determine the amount of damages the jury awards. The damages you can recover in an accident when your seat belt fails are:
These are often some of the highest costs following an accident. However, the costs are primarily dependent on the injuries sustained and the medical procedures performed on the victim. Medical expenses usually include every medically-related costs, such as ambulance costs to costs of rehabilitation and medication.
Loss of income
If following an accident, you are unable to work the rest of your life or for a short while, the income you would have earned is supposed to be compensated.
Pain and Suffering
The injuries a victim suffers can result in excruciating pain and distress. This is a damage that is allowed to be compensated for when a victim suffers injuries.
Loss of Consortium
A victim of an accident can suffer damages that will make it impossible for them to enjoy life as they previously did, especially with their spouse. In such a case, the spouse can seek compensation for the companionship lost.
When involved in an accident, you can also seek compensation for the damages to your car. If your vehicle can be repaired, the cost of repair is compensated. However, if the car requires you to buy a new one, the insurance company will make sure your vehicle is replaced.
When a safety belt fails, the chances of an accident victim suffering fatalities are high. If a loved one dies in an accident, the surviving family can seek compensation for their wrongful death.
These are some of the damages an accident victim can claim for among many others.
Find a Los Angeles Personal Injury Lawyer Near Me
No one wants to be involved in a road accident because of the challenges after. Injuries suffered in an accident can be aggravated by safety belt failure. This can be used by insurance companies to deny your rightful compensation. For this reason, you need an experienced personal injury lawyer to fight on your behalf. Talk to The LA Personal Injury Law Firm to get all the help you need in pursuing your claim. Call us at 310-935-0089, and we will pursue your claim.