man putting on a seatbelt

Seat Belts Save Lives & They’re the Law

When in an automobile it is mandatory that a seat belt is worn at all times.  You must wear all parts of the seat belt which includes the lap belt and shoulder strap, failure to do so will subject you to criminal and civil penalties.  The civil jury instructions contain the elements of nonuse of a safety belt:

If you find the defendant has proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff was not wearing an available safety belt, then you must determine the amount of pain and suffering damages, if any, caused by the plaintiff’s failure to use the safety belt.  If you award non-economic damages for pain and suffering, this amount must be deducted from the award.

As stated above, the failure of an individual to wear a safety belt allows a jury to reduce the pain and suffering damage award.  Although the statute references only the diminishment of “pain and suffering” damages for failure to wear a seat belt, in interpreting the statute the court stated that the legislature intended to include a broader range of noneconomic damages than those that might be categorized as simply “pain and suffering.”  As such, the nonuse of a seat belt could potentially also reduce other noneconomic losses.

A defendant is entitled to the safety belt instruction if he/she provides evidence of safety belt nonuse.  It should also be noted that the defendant is entitled to the safety belt instruction even if there is no evidence of a causal relationship between the claimed injury and the non-use. Once a defendant provides evidence regarding the nonuse of a seat belt, the plaintiff can then challenge the defendant’s evidence.  If the defendant does not sufficiently prove the nonuse beyond a preponderance of the evidence, then the nonuse instruction should not be presented to the jury.  When there is sufficient evidence of “nonuse” the jury is entitled to determine the amount of the reduction of your pain and suffering award and perhaps even some of the other noneconomic damages.

If you have any questions regarding this article or any other car crash related questions contact the Colorado accident attorneys at Bell & Pollock.

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