What is the Seat Belt Defense, and Does it Apply to My Case?

Like other states, Nevada requires that motorists wear a seat belt when riding in a vehicle. Failure to follow the law will result in a small civil penalty (usually $25) but no demerit points on a license. This isn’t a severe penalty, but the state still wants to encourage people to buckle up, so it is a secondary offense that an officer can cite you for if they stop you for something else.

The benefits of wearing seat belts are undisputed. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, seat belts save 15,000 lives a year. Seat belts also reduce the risk of a moderate or critical injury by 50%. That means fewer broken bones, concussions, and neck injuries. Air bags alone do not provide sufficient protection to motorists, which is why Nevada seeks to encourage seat belt use.

What happens if you were involved in a car accident and were not wearing a seat belt? That fact could matter in the litigation over who is responsible for your injuries. Our car accident lawyer explains the “seat belt” defense in greater detail below.

Seatbelt being clicked in.

Why Defendants Raise the Seat Belt Defense

In addition to requiring seat belt use, Nevada also has a comparative negligence law found at NRS § 41.141. This law states that a victim’s compensation is reduced proportionally based on their fault. So someone who is 40% at fault will only receive 60% of their damages. Further, if they are 51% at fault, then they receive nothing.

At first blush, refusing to wear a seat belt looks like negligence. The law requires that you wear one, and plenty of evidence shows that buckling up is a simple way to reduce the severity of injury. A reasonably careful person would happily buckle their seat belt before their trip.

For this reason, some defendants in car accident cases have argued that a victim was negligent when they didn’t buckle up. And they tried to get their cases dismissed or their damages reduced for that reason.

Nevada Law Prohibits the Seat Belt Defense

As explained above, the seat belt defense makes sense. Motorists are negligent when they refuse to wear a seat belt. It’s not much different than sending a text message while you drive and getting into an accident. The defendant could raise your texting-and-driving as a defense to liability.

However, the Nevada legislature has decided that car accident defendants cannot raise the seat belt defense in a personal injury lawsuit. That prohibition is spelled out in NRS § 484D.495(4)(b), which states that the use of a seat belt cannot be relied on as proof of negligence. It’s as simple as that.

Did the legislature make the right choice? There are good arguments in support of the legislature’s decision. For example, the state wants to make negligent drivers responsible when they hit someone. Allowing them to raise the seat belt defense might let them off the hook when they cause serious injuries. To encourage people to drive more carefully, we don’t let them use the seat belt defense to lower their liability.

How the Seat Belt Defense Impacts Your Case

If you were injured in an accident, the good news is that the defendant cannot use your failure to wear a seat belt against you. Consequently, you have better odds of receiving a settlement. If the defendant tries to bring up your refusal to use a seat belt, we can remind them of the law in Nevada.

However, other examples of negligence will matter. If you were driving while distracted or while drunk, then these facts would certainly reduce the compensation. You might even have majority blame for the collision, in which case you will receive nothing in compensation.

Ladah Law Firm always analyzes any comparative negligence to determine whether our clients have a solid legal claim. Because of our experience, we can usually anticipate the arguments they will make and come up with counter-arguments to show why you deserve fair compensation.

Call Us after a Car Crash

Negotiating a car accident settlement is full of landmines. Anyone who tries to go it alone is likely to end up with a headache and far less in compensation than they are entitled to. A savvy insurance adjuster might even claim that your failure to wear a seat belt is relevant for purposes of settlement. Get the experienced legal help you need by calling Ladah Law Firm today, (702) 252-0055, to speak with one of our Nevada car accident lawyers. We offer a free consultation.