I was not wearing a seat belt at the time of a car accident in Maryland—am I responsible for my injuries?
By Meghan Young
The short answer is no. Insurance companies typically come to learn that a person was not wearing their seat belt at the time of an accident when they obtain a recorded statement over the phone or they read a person’s medical records which indicates that the patient told their doctor they were not belted at the time of the crash. Once the insurance companies learn that a person was not wearing their seat belt, it is not uncommon for insurance companies to argue a “seat belt defense” while discussing the value of a personal injury claim. The insurance companies will then typically dispute the severity of the unbelted individual’s injuries, and the extent that the at-fault driver should be responsible for all of the medical treatment, if an injured person was not wearing their seat belt at the time of the accident. These companies will argue that the injured individual contributed to their own injuries by not wearing a seat belt, and that had they been wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash, they may have suffered no, or less of, an injury, and sought less medical treatment.
However, in Maryland, evidence that a person was not wearing a seat belt at the time of a car accident is not admissible to show a person was negligent or contributed to his/her injuries. Maryland Transportation Code 22-412 states that in Maryland the failure to use a seat belt cannot be considered evidence of negligence or contributory negligence. The law goes on to specify that a party, witness or attorney may not make reference to a seat belt during a trial of a civil case that involves property damage or personal injury, so long as the damages and injuries is not related to a claim against the design or installation of the seat belt itself. If your case does not settle and the case proceeds to litigation, the issue of whether you were wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident cannot be brought up in front of a judge or jury.
Insurance companies may use the seat belt defense as a talking point during negotiations for settlement of a case, however, it is improper, and will not hold up as a valid defense should the case proceed to trial. An experienced attorney will know the appropriate ways to keep this information out of the hands of a jury or judge that hears your case. For reasons like these, it is important that you contact an experienced attorney immediately if you have been injured in a car accident, prior to attempting to negotiate or settle a case with an insurance company.