Don’t Forget To Buckle Your Seatbelt

By Greg Pratch
Categories: Blog, Personal Injury

The law requires that we fasten our seatbelts while driving or riding as a passenger in a motor vehicle.   This law exists, at least in part, because seatbelts are proven to help reduce the risk of serious injury or death in the event of an accident.  As a result of these proven safety implications, our law will often reduce the compensation that an injured motorist is entitled to receive if the motorist was not wearing their seatbelt at the time of the accident.    Courts have reduced compensation by up to 25% on the basis that the injured party’s failure to wear a seatbelt contributed to the seriousness of their injuries.  The moral of the story, from both a personal safety perspective as well as a lawsuit perspective, is to wear your seatbelt whenever you are traveling in a motor vehicle.
 
Unfortunately, sometimes fastening your seatbelt is not enough.  Crash investigations have revealed that on occasion, seatbelts that were previously fastened have come unfastened during an accident, sometimes having catastrophic consequences.  While the engineering and science behind why this might occur during an accident is beyond the scope of this article, two interesting seatbelt failure situations are worth noting.  The first has been called “inertial unlatching”.  This occurs when a sharp blow is applied to the backside of the seatbelt buckle during an accident.  In this situation, the spring that holds the latching mechanism is unable to hold the components in the latched position, thus causing the seatbelt to unlatch.  The second situation has been called “false latching”.  As the name suggests, this occurs when a person fastens their seatbelt and it sounds as though it has locked in place.  In reality however, the locking mechanism has not fully engaged.  When the forces of an accident are applied, the seatbelt unfastens.
 
Seatbelt failure can have significant implications to an injured motorist seeking compensation for personal injuries they sustained in the accident.  As previously indicated, compensation can be affected by whether or not a motorist was wearing their seatbelt prior to the accident.  If the motorist is ejected from the vehicle for example, the natural conclusion is that he or she was not wearing their seatbelt and therefore, their injury compensation should be reduced.  Being aware, however, of the potential for seatbelts to fail may prompt legal counsel to further investigate to determine whether the client’s seatbelt actually failed during the accident.  This can help ensure that injury compensation accurately reflects the accident circumstances.  It may also impact whether the car manufacturer is brought into the lawsuit as a defendant.