Some car wreck cases are clear cut: a driver ran through a red light and rear-ended another car, or was texting and hit another vehicle. In some cases, though, both drivers are partially fault. Defense lawyers and liability insurance carriers will always try to shift the blame from their client to the wreck victim.
Alabama is a contributory negligence state. That means if the defendant is 99% at fault and the plaintiff is even 1% at fault, the plaintiff’s claim can still be denied. Most other states permit an injury victim to recover partial pro-rated damages even if the injury victim was partially negligent; however, that is not the case in Alabama. The argument is often made by defense lawyers in Alabama that failure to wear your safety belt at the time of a wreck is considered contributory negligence.
Alabama’s safety belt laws
Under Alabama law, the law has long since been that the driver and passengers in the front seat of a vehicle must wear a seat belt. Specifically, the Alabama Safety Belt Act of 1991 provides that “[e]ach front seat occupant of a passenger car manufactured with safety belts in compliance with Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208 shall have a safety belt properly fastened about his body at all times when the vehicle is in motion.” The following are exceptions:
- People who have an appropriate, written statement from a licensed doctor that state they are unable to wear a safety belt due to medical reasons;
- People who are rural letter carriers for the United States Postal Service while performing his/her duties as a rural letter carrier;
- People who are delivering mail or newspapers from house to house;
- People in a vehicle with a model year prior to 1965; and
- People in vehicles which normally operate in reverse.
More recently, as of September 2019, Alabama law also requires passengers in the back seat to wear safety belts.
Contrary to defense lawyers’ arguments, Alabama law specifically holds that the failure to wear a safety belt will not constitute contributory negligence on the part of the victim. If there is no other evidence to support a contributory negligence defense, the injury victim will be entitled to a full recovery. A conviction for failing to wear a safety belt or other evidence of failure to wear a safety belt “shall not limit the liability of an insurer.”
There are some limited exceptions to the law indicating that failure to wear a safety belt is not contributory negligence. For example, an injured victim who files a product liability lawsuit against a safety belt manufacturer will not be able to recover damages if the victim was not actually wearing the safety belt when the car wreck occurred.
At Mezrano Law Firm, our experienced lawyers are skilled at investigating your claim, determining who should be held liable, and working with your physicians to fully understand your health needs. We understand the arguments insurance carriers and defense lawyers assert to try to deny or reduce your claim and are equipped at combatting such unreasonable efforts by the defense. If you were hurt or a loved one was killed in a car crash, call us at 205.206.6300 or complete our contact form to schedule an appoint. We will guide you through the settlement and litigation process. You can meet with our lawyers in Birmingham, Tuscaloosa, Mobile, Montgomery, Florence, and Gadsden.