How Wearing Seat Belts Impacts Auto Accident Liability & Negligence

How Wearing Seat Belts

The Colorado State Patrol claims that there is a 82.9% seat belt compliance rate. The state’s law requires that both front seat occupants of a motor vehicle wear their seat belt. It is no secret that seat belts can save lives in auto accidents. How does failure to wear a seat belt affect Colorado civil cases involving negligence and liability in auto accident injuries?

Colorado Court of Appeals Case

Defendant Jon Staples appealed a ruling for Plaintiffs Lilli and Leon Churning for damages from an auto accident. A jury found the defendant was liable for the accident and injuries. The defendant argued that the jury should have been instructed on the negligence of the plaintiffs as being a contributing factor, since Lilli Churning wasn’t wearing a seat belt. The appeals court agreed that seatbelt usage doesn’t factor into issues of contributory negligence. The seat belt defense isn’t applicable in negligence action and the seatbelt defense isn’t available for determining the degree of plaintiff’s negligence under the comparative negligence statute. The comparative negligence statute allows for a percentage of the plaintiff’s negligence, or fault in the incident, to reduce the percentage of any award for damages that the defendant is ordered to pay.

Colorado Supreme Court Case

The CO Supreme Court ruled that juries may consider an individual’s failure to wear a seatbelt in awarding damages related to pain and suffering in auto accidents. In Valdez v. Pringle, Debbie Pringle was driving with Mark Valdez as a passenger, when she hit a barrier. Valdez sustained injuries requiring surgery and sought damages for negligence resulting in impairment, disfigurement, inconvenience, emotional trauma and reduced quality of life. Ms. Pringle felt the jury should have been instructed to mitigate the award based on his failure to wear a seatbelt.

The jury was not instructed as such, awarding $400,000 for physical impairment and $100,000 for non-economic losses. Valdez didn’t include pain and suffering in his claim. An appeals court held that the phrase “pain & suffering” does not include all forms of non-economic damages, rather is a sub-segment within them. The Supreme Court ultimately found the non-economic damages of $100,000 awarded to Valdez for inconvenience, emotional stress and reduced quality of life should be included under “pain & suffering” in the seatbelt defense provision. They believed the jury should have been instructed to consider Valdez’s failure to use a seatbelt to mitigate, or reduce, these allegations of damages. The physical disfigurement and impairment claims weren’t subject to the mitigation under the seatbelt defense.

Coping with injuries from a car accident is difficult. It is important to remember that those responsible are looking out for their best interest. Contact the accident attorneys at the Law Firm of Jeremy Rosenthal today to insure you are properly compensated, as they have been successfully advocating for Colorado’s victims of injury for many years.

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