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Wearing a seatbelt is a requirement of the law in Colorado while operating a motor vehicle. Seatbelts are very important and can secure the driver and passengers against harmful movement when involved in an accident. However, it is an easy thing to forget, and drivers often will drive without them. This is where insurance companies will attempt to reduce the amount of money that they will be forced to pay out by claiming that the damages would have been less if a seatbelt had been worn, commonly known as the “seatbelt defense.” It may be possible to seek compensation if you were in an accident without a seatbelt on, but it is important that you contact an experienced attorney who is familiar with these types of cases.
The Seatbelt Defense
To begin with, it is important to understand that the defense lawyers and insurance companies in any lawsuit will be arguing to pay out as little as possible for their clients or for themselves. This means that they will use any tool at their disposal to pay you as little as possible. In car accident claims, one of these tools is the seatbelt defense. The general logic behind the seatbelt defense is this: the defendant may have caused the accident to occur, but the injuries suffered by the person bringing the claim would have been much less severe if they had been following Colorado law and wearing a seatbelt. Thus, the argument goes, the defendant should only have to pay for the less severe injuries the plaintiff would have suffered if they had been wearing their seatbelt.
To fully understand the seatbelt defense, it is important to discuss the idea of “comparative negligence.” This may sound like a complicated legal term, but it simply represents the idea that in a car accident, there can be multiple parties who were at fault. Comparative negligence then allocates liability based upon the percentage of fault assigned to each party. For example, imagine a scenario in which a driver who was driving under the influence collided with a driver who ran a red light. Both of these drivers were driving negligently, and both probably share some of the fault for the resulting accident. Comparative negligence takes this reality into account.
Colorado is what is known as a “modified comparative fault” state, meaning that a damaged party cannot seek compensation if they were 50% or more at fault for the accident. The damaged party can still seek compensation, provided their percentage of the fault is less than 50%, but their damages will be reduced by their percentage of fault. This is where the seatbelt defense comes into play. Insurance companies and defense lawyers can argue that because the damaged party was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, the percentage of the fault assigned to them should be higher, and thus, that the amount that the defendant or insurance company should be required to pay out is lower.
Is it Still Worth Pursuing a Claim?
While a successful seatbelt defense argument may lower the amount that a defendant has to pay out, it is important to note that they are not completely off the hook. The seatbelt defense will only reduce their liability for injuries that they can prove would have been less severe if the injured party had been wearing a seatbelt. In addition, in Colorado, the courts have held that the seatbelt defense is only admissible to reduce damages stemming from pain and suffering. In other words, the seatbelt defense does not apply to damages such as the following:
- Lost Wages: Your injuries may have left you unable to go to work. The wages that you would have received had you been able to go to work are compensable in a lawsuit.
- Medical Bills: Depending on the severity of the injuries, car accidents can lead to expensive hospital stays and procedures. It is possible to recoup this money in a lawsuit.
- Damage to Property: In a car accident claim, this typically means damage to your vehicle. Any money spent on repairs that may have been necessary to restore your car to its condition prior to the accident may be compensable. This category is the least susceptible to the seatbelt defense, as damages to your vehicle do not have anything to do with a seatbelt.
What to Do Next
If you have been injured in a car accident, it is important to make sure that you complete a few key steps in order to preserve any potential claim that you might have.
1. Seek Medical Attention
Even if you believe that your injuries are not very serious, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. For one, injuries can sometimes be more serious than they first appear to be. This is especially true when it comes to head injuries, which can often lead to more serious consequences if left untreated. In addition, defense lawyers and insurance companies will often try to use a large amount of time between the accident and subsequent medical appointments to argue that the injuries must not have been that severe.
2. Document the Accident
Ideally, this would take place as soon after the accident as possible. If you did not file a police report with police on the scene, complete this as soon as possible. Next, make sure to document the damages that you suffered as a result of the accident. This includes collecting bills and receipts, requesting copies of your medical records, and taking pictures of the vehicles involved in the crash.
3. Contact an Attorney
The legal process can be long and complicated, and it only gets trickier with the addition of the seatbelt defense. It is important that you contact an attorney as soon after your accident as possible. An experienced attorney can guide you through the process and put together an argument to help you seek the compensation that you may be entitled to.
Do I Need a Lawyer?
It can be tempting to try to resolve your car accident claim on your own in an attempt to avoid paying any attorneys’ fees. However, this can often lead to complications and mistakes that a lawyer could help you avoid. Remember, insurance companies and defense attorneys are experts at what they do, and their job is to pay you as little as possible. An experienced attorney can help you out in all aspects of your claim, including the following:
Assessing Your Claim
While it might be disappointing to hear, sometimes claims are not worth pursuing. Seeking compensation for a claim that has little to no chance of succeeding can be a very frustrating, time-consuming, and expensive experience. While there is no way of predicting the outcome of a claim at the start, your attorney can at least give you a recommendation of what you may be able to expect, and whether it is even worth it to file a claim at all.
Experience with Insurance Companies
Insurance companies are businesses, and like any business, they want to take in as much money as possible while paying out as little as possible. To that end, they employ experienced claims adjusters who often engage you in conversations and employ techniques to get you to say something damaging to your claim. An attorney who is experienced in these sorts of communications and can help you navigate conversations with the insurance companies.
Experience with the Law
Once they have accepted your case, your attorney can begin to gather evidence and engage in settlement negotiations. At this point, it is critical that you have an experienced attorney on your side. Evidence often comes in the form of mountains of paperwork, and an experienced attorney can know what to look for in order to best support your case. In addition, they likely will have handled similar cases to yours in the past and can draw on this experience to order to best craft the arguments supporting your claim.
Statute of Limitations
For every personal injury claim, there is a time limit within which it must be brought, also known as the statute of limitations. In Colorado, this time limit is three years for car accident claims. This means that from the date of the accident, you have three years to bring a claim, or risk it being dismissed. However, there are a few exceptions to this general rule.
One such exception is the discovery rule. The discovery rule applies when you could not possibly have discovered a certain injury until long after the regular statute of limitations had run. Also, the statute of limitations may be “tolled” in certain situations. When the statute is tolled, it is essentially paused due to the occurrence of some exception, which include the victim not being mentally competent, or being a minor at the time of the crash. Generally speaking, it is advisable to contact an attorney as soon as possible to avoid bumping into problems with the statute of limitations.
Zinda Law Group Can Help
If there is a claim worth pursuing, we can use every available tool to help you seek compensation.
Call Zinda Law Group today at (888) 281-6991 to receive your free consultation and see what one of our Colorado personal injury attorneys can do for you.
Meetings with attorneys are available by appointment only.