Understanding the Seatbelt Defense and Accident Victims’ Rights in Illinois
If you’ve been hurt in an auto accident caused by someone else, you know insurance adjusters tend to search for ways to downplay your injuries and damages. Whether they attempt to pin some of the blame on you or suggest your injuries were caused by something other than the collision, these methods are all in service of reducing your settlement and saving the insurance company money.
There are legal limits to the types of challenges an insurance adjuster can bring when considering an accident claim. Here’s how they apply in accidents where an injury victim was not wearing their seatbelt.
Can An Insurance Adjuster Reduce My Settlement Because I Wasn’t Wearing a Seatbelt?
In Illinois, it is illegal for an insurance agency to refuse to pay full damages because an accident victim was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. Neither can an adjuster argue that one party’s failure to wear a seatbelt is a sign of negligence. The division of liability can only be based on actions that directly contributed to an accident.
Only 15 states in the U.S. allow the “seatbelt defense,” i.e., an argument that an accident victim would not have suffered such serious injuries if they had been wearing a seatbelt. If you are involved in an accident with an out-of-state driver, like someone from Missouri, an insurer may invoke this clause. You should always wear a seatbelt for your safety, but especially if you’re traveling out of state, keep in mind that you could be penalized in an insurance claim if you don’t buckle up.
A Plaintiff’s Duty to Mitigate Damages
An at-fault driver’s insurer is responsible for paying for the damages caused by their client in an accident, but victims are responsible for doing their part to prevent injuries from exacerbating after a wreck. This is why you should go to a doctor as soon as possible after an accident—if you put off seeking treatment and end up suffering worse injuries than you otherwise might have, an insurance adjuster can refuse to pay all of your medical bills. You may find yourself having to pay for additional care out-of-pocket if you could have avoided it by visiting a doctor sooner.
So, could an insurance adjuster argue your failure to wear a seatbelt violated this duty to mitigate damages? In Illinois, the answer is once again no. Wearing seatbelts does make a difference—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates they reduce the risk of death by 45% and injury by 50%—but our state laws do not allow insurance adjusters to use this information when figuring a settlement or arguing a case in court. However, the law only applies to seatbelts; if you do anything else that increases your risk of injury, an insurer could use it to decrease your compensation.
Regardless, You Should Always Buckle Up
Even though your settlement can’t be reduced because you weren’t wearing a seatbelt, that’s no excuse to forego this safety feature. For one, Illinois law requires you and your passengers to buckle up. Additionally, choosing to wear a seatbelt could increase your settlement in a good way—by saving you from suffering an injury that results in a lifetime disability like brain injury, spinal cord damage, or loss of limb.
Over half of the people who die in car accidents are not belted in at the time of the crash. We do not want you or a loved one to suffer a tragic loss that can be prevented by taking two seconds to put on your seatbelt when you get in the car.
Our Car Accident Lawyers Can Answer Your Questions
If you or a loved one was seriously injured in a car accident, our team at The Tapella & Eberspacher Law Firm is here to help you file a claim and maximize your compensation. Severe injuries can disrupt your life and have effects that stretch into the future. Your one chance for financial assistance is in filing a claim for damages, so it’s important to make the most of it.
We offer free, no-obligation consultations to accident victims who want to learn more about their rights and options. Whether you have a question about liability, mitigation of damages, or another issue, our knowledgeable attorneys are here to help.
Speak with one of our experienced car accident attorneys today by calling us at (217) 394-5885.