The answer is yes, but ONLY if you listen to what the insurance company tells you. In fact, Colorado Statute § 13-21-111 essentially says that if you get hurt in an accident and you were not wearing your seatbelt, then the jury gets to reduce the amount of money the at-fault driver must pay you. Sometimes this is referred to as the "Comparative Negligence" statute. It effectively allows the jury to say "we think you wouldn't have been hurt as badly had you worn your seatbelt, so you are partially at fault for your injuries.
We often have clients who find themselves squarely in conflict with this very unique aspect of our Colorado law which the only learn about AFTER their accident where they were not wearing their seat belt. Of course, they almost always first hear about this strange Colorado State Statute from the at-fault driver's insurance company.
In truth, seat belts do save lives - sometimes. And sometimes, seat belts have no effect at all. And, not to be blasphemous, but sometimes seat belts cause increased injuries.
At the risk of appearing "anti-seat belt," which we are not, the scientific data coming out of research study after research study shows that seat belts are just not as much of an "injury preventer" as the general public believes them to be. In fact, seat belt usage in side impact (t-bone) collisions, and certainly in lower impact rear end collisions often have resulted in equal or even greater injury to persons comparable to occupants in similar collisions not wearing seat belts. Rollover collisions where occupants remain in the vehicle have been shown to result in no significant difference in injuries regardless of seat belt usage. And of course, head on collisions at speeds greater than 50 mph, generally result in fatalities regardless of seat belt usage.
Seat belts are very important. However, any attorney who caves simply because an insurance company adjuster points out that his client was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the collision, probably lacks experience or the intestinal fortitude to fight for his client in trial and should probably look into becoming a real estate lawyer.
A good trial attorney has the ability to sufficiently educate a jury through research studies and well qualified experts as to why they should not exercise their discretion to reduce an injury award based on the false presumption that the injury victim's degree of injury would have been less severe but for the lack of seat belt usage. In fact, a careful look at Colorado jury verdicts has found that, overwhelmingly, juries have not significantly reduced awards for a plaintiff's failure wear a seat belt.
Most of the discussions and detailed references to this obscure Colorado law come from insurance adjusters. There is plenty of insurance adjuster chatter about the freedom a jury is given to reduce an award on a "non-seat-belt" wearing victim. Our perception is that adjusters try their best to paint a bleak picture for auto accident victims in an effort to get them to lower their expectations for settlement. Apparently, it must be working; because they continue to do it.
Truth is, there certainly are occasions where an injury can be avoided or a least minimized by seat belt usage. But, for a car accident victim who is concerned about their own non-usage of the seat belt, careful selection of attorneys who are not afraid to tackle this issue is critical. Injury victims can get justice in a Colorado court, EVEN when they were not wearing their seat belt in a car accident. These cases are complicated and require the guidance of experienced legal professionals.
At Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn we are well versed in this area of the law and are well prepared to fight these battles on your behalf. If you were injured in a recent car accident and you were not wearing a seatbelt, don't give in just yet. Instead, give us a call and let us help you through this difficult issue.