Legal concept about What Is the 'Seat Belt Defense'? with inscription on the sheet

What You Need to Know About the Seat Belt Defense

Landry Law, P.C. May 30, 2023

Every state except New Hampshire requires drivers and passengers in a moving vehicle to wear a seat belt. Lap belts have been the law of the land for every vehicle manufactured since 1968, and the following year, the law was extended to rear seats. Since 2008, shoulder harnesses have been mandated. 

Colorado indeed requires the wearing of seat belts, but it is considered a secondary offense if you don’t wear one. This means that you can only be cited for non-use if you are pulled over for another violation. Nonetheless, seat belts can play an important factor in accidents.  

Suppose you are struck in the rear by another vehicle, the one presumably at fault, but you were not wearing your seat belt. The at-fault driver could assert what is called “the seat belt defense.” In other words, they can claim that you contributed to your own injuries and that they are therefore less responsible. Is this possible in Colorado? 

Yes, it is. Colorado is among 15 states that recognize the seat belt defense.   

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident in or around Lone Tree or Trinidad, Colorado, contact us at Landry Law, P.C. We are ready to stand by your side through the personal injury process and can help assert—or challenge—the seat belt defense whenever it may be necessary. We are proud to serve clients in Lone Tree, Trinidad, Denver, Castle Pines, Castle Rock, and the rest of Colorado. Set up a consultation today. 

Seat Belt Laws in Colorado  

It’s important to have a good sense of Colorado law regarding seat belts. Colorado law asserts that “every driver and every front seat passenger in a motor vehicle … with a safety belt system shall wear a fastened seat belt while the motor vehicle is being operated on a street or highway in this state.” 

What Is the Seat Belt Defense? 

Essentially, the seat belt defense is used to allege that the injured party would have been less injured had he or she been wearing a seat belt, as required by law, and therefore the other party is less liable. The injured party shares some responsibility, and thus the award of damages for injuries should be reduced. 

The seat belt defense might be asserted in two ways: 

THROUGH FAILURE TO MITIGATE: Failure to mitigate generally refers to the injured party’s failure to take measures to limit the extent of their injury. It usually refers to actions taken after the injury has occurred, but attorneys may press the case that failure to wear seat belts to mitigate injury falls under this principle as well. 

THROUGH COMPARATIVE NEGLIGENCE: Colorado recognizes the principle of modified comparative negligence, or fault. This means that both parties may share a portion of the fault for what happened. This could be that a rear-ended party had malfunctioning brake lights, and thus the party suffering the injuries had some role in what happened. The same principle holds true if the injured party was not wearing his or her seat belt. Modified comparative negligence is also referred to as the 51 percent rule. If a victim’s fault rises above 50 percent, they can receive nothing. 

Possible Responses to the Seat Belt Defense 

You and your attorney may be able to argue that failure to wear the seat belt did not cause the accident. Additionally, there is also what is known as the “eggshell plaintiff” doctrine. This legal principle maintains that, no matter how fragile a victim may be when injured by a negligent party, the negligent party is still responsible for injuries sustained. With the help of an attorney, you can strategize a strong response to the seat belt defense. 

Seek Trusted Legal Counsel 

If you seek financial recovery through a personal injury lawsuit, then you may well face the seat belt defense. Even if your claim for injuries is being settled outside of court, the insurance claims adjusters could seek to claim that you contributed to the event by not wearing a seat belt. No matter your specific situation, you need to reach out to a personal injury lawyer

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident in or around Lone Tree or Trinidad, contact us at Landry Law, P.C. Our personal injury attorney can review your case, advise you of your best options going forward, and can represent you as you seek the compensation you deserve.