Science has proven that wearing a seat belt while in a motor vehicle is the best way to protect yourself from injuries in a crash. That’s why South Carolina requires drivers and passengers to wear seat belts. The law also requires that younger children ride in car seats. Since wearing seat belts became mandatory, the rate of seat belt use has climbed to about 90 percent nationwide and countless lives have been saved, according to federal statistics.
Still, some drivers and passengers get into car crashes while not wearing seat belts and sustain serious injuries. If you need to file an injury claim, you may have questions about the legal consequences of not wearing a seat belt on your claim.
South Carolina law says specifically that the failure to use a seat belt cannot be admitted as evidence in a civil action such as a personal injury lawsuit. If an insurance company tells you that it is denying your car accident claim or reducing a settlement in a South Carolina wreck because you were not wearing a seat belt, you need to speak to an experienced car accident attorney right away. At Joye Law Firm, we can stand up to insurers that try to shift the blame. We can help you demand just compensation after a car accident caused by another motorist.
South Carolina’s Seat Belt Law
South Carolina’s seat belt law says that every driver and passenger in a motor vehicle must wear a fastened safety belt that meets federal requirements when the vehicle is being operated on public streets or highways.
The driver is responsible for requiring every passenger 17 years old or younger to wear a safety belt or to be secured in a child restraint system. If a passenger 17 years old or younger has a driver’s license or beginner’s permit, that passenger may be ticketed separately for not wearing a seat belt.
In 2005, South Carolina changed its seat belt law to make it easier for police to ticket people for failure to wear seat belts. Under the old law, an officer could only cite a motorist for a seat belt violation if the motorist had been stopped for another violation.
Under the revised law, law enforcement officers can stop drivers if they see that a driver or passenger is not wearing a seat belt or has not been secured in a child restraint system. If you violate the S.C. seat belt law, you are subject to a fine. A seat belt violation does not result in points against an individual’s driver’s license and is not reported to insurance companies.
South Carolina’s seat belt law does not apply to:
- A driver or passenger who has written verification from a physician that he is unable to wear a safety belt for physical or medical reasons
- Medical or rescue personnel attending to injured or sick individuals in an emergency vehicle
- School, church, or daycare buses
- Public transportation vehicles, except taxis
- Passengers of vehicles in parades
- United States mail carriers
- A passenger for whom no seat belt is available because all belts are being used by other passengers
- A driver or passenger in a vehicle not originally equipped with safety belts.
Can I File a Lawsuit If I Wasn’t Wearing a Seat Belt?
South Carolina’s seat belt law says, “A violation of this article is not negligence per se or contributory negligence, and is not admissible as evidence in a civil action.” This means that your failure to wear a seat belt does not keep you from filing a lawsuit against another party responsible for a car accident.
You may file a civil lawsuit if the at-fault driver’s insurance company refused to settle a claim appropriately, such as by offering too little money as a settlement or denying your claim altogether.
The insurance company would defend their policyholder by presenting any evidence in their client’s favor that showed that you were responsible for the accident. But this evidence could not include the fact that you were not wearing a seat belt.
Can I Be Compensated After a Car Crash Without a Seat Belt?
South Carolina’s seat belt law refers to the doctrine of negligence, which prevents an injured party from collecting any compensation after a car accident if he or she was primarily to blame.
Failure to wear a seat belt is not available as evidence when determining comparative negligence, a rule that allows blame to be shared and damages to be awarded based on each individual’s share of fault.
Under comparative negligence rules, each party in a lawsuit is held liable for the amount of responsibility they bear for the accident. For example, imagine that you have a claim for $10,000 in damages from a collision with another vehicle. If you had zero responsibility for the accident, then you would be entitled to recover the full $10,000. However, if a jury decided you were partly at fault and assigned you 20 percent of the blame for the accident because you were speeding, then your compensation would be reduced by that percentage. So, in that case, you would be eligible to recover $8,000.
If a South Carolina jury determined that you were 51 percent or more at fault for an accident, then you would not be eligible to recover any compensation.
If you do not wear a seat belt, it is likely that the injuries you suffer in a crash will be worse than they would have been if you were protected by lap and shoulder restraints. This may prompt an insurance adjuster to balk at paying your injury claim. A knowledgeable attorney can stand up for your rights and prevent an insurance adjuster from trying to shift the blame to you.
Contact an S.C. Car Accident Attorney Today
If your life has been upended by an auto accident, our South Carolina car accident lawyers can fight for your rights and prevent insurance companies from taking advantage of you. Call Joye Law Firm at (877) 936-9707 or use this online contact form today for a free review of your case. We handle car accident cases from Columbia, Myrtle Beach, North Charleston, Clinton, Summerville, and across South Carolina.