Colorado law, C.R.S. § 42-4-237, requires that passengers and drivers of automobiles must wear seat belts. You can even get a ticket for not wearing your seat belt. But, there is a lesser known cousin of the "seat belt required" movement that people often learn about after it's too late - the civil consequences of being in a motor vehicle collision, and not having worn your seat belt.
Under Colorado case law, even if the accident was completely the other driver's fault, a jury is free to reduce your damages, if they choose, all the way down to zero for a failure to wear a seat belt. Anderson v. Watson, 929 P.2d 6, (Colo.App. 1996). The jury is charged with deciding, often with scant evidence, how much of your pain and suffering would have been avoided had you theoretically been wearing your seat belt at the time of the accident. The reality is that seat belts are a good idea. They are of vital importance in head-on collisions. They are of some benefit in off center collisions. They are of marginal benefit in side-impact collisions. And, yes, in lower impact rear-end collisions they often cause more injury than they avoid. However, the law correctly endorses the use of seat belts and as a matter of public policy continues to encourage their use. It has always been curious to me that our legislature continues to make the laws stricter related to seat belts being worn by drivers often with six thousand pound steel buffers around them already, but has no problem endorsing motorcycles lack of use of a helmet when that rider has no buffer between himself and the pavement. But, those issues are for legislators to resolve. As a lawyer, when we come upon a case of a person who reports themselves at the scene as NOT wearing a seat belt, the first thing I start thinking about is what sort of evidence might be helpful to a jury in assisting them in minimizing the possibly large bite that they might take out of my clients verdict. Accident reconstruction testimony, police testimony and sometimes just some plain old-fashioned horse sense and logic help me in formulating my arguments dealing with this problem. For you drivers out there, particularly during this holiday season, make it one of your New Year's resolutions to start buckling up EVERY TIME you get into a vehicle. Seat belts do save lives and not wearing one can cost you in the event of an accident both physically and monetarily.
From all of us at Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn, please BUCKLE UP, for your safety and for your case. But, if you happen to forget and unfortunately are then involved in an accident, call us so we can you cope with the civil consequences.