In Ohio, when a driver is deemed to be responsible for a car accident, he or she will be liable to pay any damage that was caused to persons and property that arose from the incident. The person responsible for the accident is labeled the “at-fault driver.” Assuming the at-fault driver has insurance, the injured person would make a claim with the at-fault driver’s insurance company. But at-fault drivers and their insurance companies typically assert defenses in court that could potentially limit the injured person’s recovery if the injured person is found to be somewhat responsible for the accident. Depending on state law, at-fault drivers in a typical case will raise several defense, including that the injured person contributed to causing the auto accident. This is known as contributory negligence. Alongside contributory negligence, at-fault drivers may also assert what is called the “seat belt defense.”
The Seat Belt Defense
Many states, including Ohio, allow for defendants to assert the seat belt defense. The basic principle of this defense is that since the plaintiff failed to follow the law by wearing a seat belt while driving, recovery should be limited because he or she contributed to the injuries sustained in the accident. Under Ohio Revised Code 2315.33, a court can reduce a plaintiff’s damages by the amount that is equal to the percentage he or she is found to contribute to an accident. But it doesn’t bar a plaintiff from recovering damages that were a direct and proximate cause of an accident.
The seat belt defense is put on as evidence so a jury can determine the allocation or percentage of fault that the plaintiff and defendant are responsible for in the accident. In states like Ohio, the rationale for this defense is that plaintiffs should not fully recover when the injury arising from the accident was aggravated due to the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt.
Law and Data
Under Ohio Revised Code 4523.263, every driver and front seat passenger is required to wear a seat belt. And Ohio law requires every child under eight years old to ride in a booster seat or other appropriate child safety seat unless certain height requirements are met. Although a violation of this code results in a minimal fine, the law is really put into place to protect Ohioans from serious and fatal injuries.
According to the Ohio Highway Safety Office, 1,326 people were fatally injured between 2016 to 2018 because they were not wearing an available seat belt during a car crash. And 6,021 occupants suffered serious injuries while unbelted. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) estimated that in 2017 alone, 456 occupants of a motor vehicle at the age of five or older were saved by using a seat belt in Ohio.
The consequences of not wearing a seat belt can be life changing. Reports show that 138 people who were involved in a fatal car accident in Ohio could have been saved if they were wearing a seat belt during the accident. NHTSA also reported that, in 2017, seat belts saved the lives of around 14,955 people who were involved in a motor vehicle accident. With that, it is safe to say that Ohio pushes for the use of a seat belt because of the preventive measures it provides.
The Round Up
The importance of wearing your seat belt really goes without question. Ohio law requires drivers and front seat passengers to wear a seat belt for their safety and benefit. And many people are unaware that the failure to wear one can also limit your recovery in a claim against an at-fault driver. This could potentially lead to out of pocket payments for medical bills and property damage that occur from an auto accident.
If you have been involved in an auto accident, you may have a claim to recover damages against an at-fault driver. Many times, insurance companies will attempt to limit your recovery from an insurance policy based on the percentage of fault it assigns to you. When you disagree with that percentage, it may be necessary to obtain an attorney to make a legal claim so you can be compensated fairly. To schedule a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer, please call our office at 330-722-8989.
- Ohio Traffic Safety Office, https://ohiohighwaysafetyoffice.ohio.gov/otso-resources.aspx#gsc.tab=0.
- Ohio Revised Code, http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/seatbelts#:~:text=Of%20the%2037%2C133%20people%20killed,had%20been%20wearing%20seat%20belts.