A recent tragic car accident that claimed the life of a 28-year old Oxford, Massachusetts, woman might have been prevented had the young woman been wearing her seatbelt. The accident occurred on December 9, 2017, on Sutton Avenue near Fort Hill Road and Lovett Road. No details were reported on the cause of the accident but police reports indicated the woman was ejected from her vehicle and was found lying on the roadway. The fact she was ejected strongly suggests she was not restrained in her seat at the moment of impact.
Seatbelts Save Life and Limb
It is no secret that buckling up greatly reduces your chances of suffering a fatal accident in a car collision. In 2015, there were 22,441 deaths attributed to traffic accidents. About half of the victims were between the ages of 13 to 44 and were not wearing seatbelts. Statistics show that you are 25 times more likely to suffer a fatal injury when ejected during an accident.
In Massachusetts in 2016, there were 32 motor vehicle occupants who were ejected from their vehicles, all of whom were killed. According to the director of public and legislative affairs at AAA Northeast, no one who wore a seatbelt in a traffic accident in our state was ejected and killed in 2016.
Wearing a seatbelt also prevents serious injuries. If you are not ejected from the vehicle but were unrestrained, you risk hitting your head on a windshield or other part of the car or becoming a projectile and contacting others within the vehicle. Head, chest and abdomen injuries are the most common injuries suffered when not wearing a seatbelt. If you are the driver, it is more likely you will lose control of your vehicle if not restrained upon collision.
Massachusetts Seatbelt Use and Law
All motorists and passengers are required to wear a seatbelt and toddlers must be in a child safety seat. However, at least for now, Massachusetts treats seatbelt violations as a secondary offense, meaning that police cannot pull you over for simply not wearing a seatbelt. You must have committed some other traffic violation first and then be cited if you or your passengers were not restrained. This may soon change, however, if a current bill circulating in the State House passes. If it does, a seatbelt offense would be a primary offense and fines for non-use would increase from $25 to $50 for drivers who would also face additional fines for each passenger who was not belted.
As we have pointed out in previous blogs, Massachusetts is one of the worst states when it comes to seatbelt usage, ranking 48th of 50. While the national average is 90%, our rate is an embarrassing 78%. Hopefully, passage of the bill will increase usage so long as police step up enforcement.
How Does Failing to Wear a Seatbelt Affect a Claim?
In a motor vehicle accident, there are certain elements that need to be proved by the victim or car accident lawyer by the standard of a preponderance of the evidence. This means that it is more likely than not that the defendant:
- Had a duty to exercise caution and reasonable care in operating a motor vehicle;
- And breached that duty of care by causing an accident;
- And caused the injuries that you sustained as a result of the accident
All motorists have a legal duty to obey the traffic laws and to be cautious while driving. If a driver was traveling too fast for the conditions, made an unsafe or illegal turn, drove erratically, or otherwise committed a traffic offense that led to an accident, then that motorist is guilty of negligence. If liability is an issue because the parties dispute the facts, a car accident lawyer can often find supporting evidence from independent witnesses, the location of the damage to the vehicles, the appearance of skid marks, and even video surveillance footage found at the intersection or adjoining businesses.
Although not wearing a seatbelt does not lead to an accident, it can lead to injuries that may have been prevented had you been restrained. Your burden of proof is demonstrating that all the elements of negligence are met including that your injuries were caused by the accident. If they were not, then you may not recover compensation for those injuries or at least to a certain level.
Comparative negligence principles are relevant in injury accidents where the claimant was not wearing a seatbelt. Massachusetts follows the 51% rule whereby you cannot collect any compensation if you are found to be 51% or more at fault. Any degree of fault by you reduces your compensation or award of damages. For instance, if you were 45% at fault and your damages are $100,000, you would only recover $55,000.
In regards to an injury accident, an insurance adjuster, defense attorney or jury might conclude that the defendant was 100% at fault for the accident. But since the victim was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected, it would be much more difficult to hold the defendant more than 50% liable for the damages unless an accident reconstruction expert or someone trained in accident biomechanics can show that either an injury or even a fatality would more than likely have still occurred because of the forces and trauma involved, regardless if the victim was not restrained.
Damages in a Car Accident
Damages in a car accident injury claim depend on the nature and extent of your injuries, liability and proof of your losses and damages. These may include:
- Past and future medical expenses
- Past and future income loss
- Decreased earning capacity
- Permanent disability
- Permanent disfigurement
- Cost of vocational rehabilitation
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional trauma
- Spousal claim for loss of consortium
In a wrongful death claim, damages often include:
- Funeral and burial expenses
- Medical expenses if incurred during final treatment
- Value of income the decedent could reasonably have been expected to earn in his or her lifetime
- Pain and suffering of the decedent but only if the decedent was observed to have consciously suffered before succumbing to injuries
- Loss of the decedent’s love, care, companionship, comfort, guidance and counsel as provided to family members
- Punitive damages for gross negligence or conduct that is willful, malicious, wanton or reckless
Contact the Law Office of Burns and Jain
In a car accident where you or a loved one was injured but not wearing a seatbelt, you will want a car accident lawyer experienced and skilled in such cases. Call a car accident lawyer at the Law Office of Burns and Jain, attorneys who have been handling the most complex injury cases throughout Massachusetts for many years. See why so many clients return to or refer their friends and family members to our office. Call us today to get started: 617-227-7423.