How can not wearing a seatbelt impact a claim motor vehicle accident claim?

PUBLISHED 27 May 2016

Many who live in New South Wales will be aware of the multitude of advertisements from the government that highlight the importance of wearing a seatbelt while on the road. One of the most recent is the “Clip Every Trip” campaign that targets male, rural drivers.

While the life-saving effects of wearing a seatbelt are well-known, those seeking motor accidents compensation may not be aware how wearing or failing to wear a seatbelt could impact their claim.

Contributory negligence stemming from seatbelts

To understand how seatbelts could impact a claim, it is important to understand the legal concept of contributory negligence.

Under the Motor Accidents Compensation Act 1999, assessors and judges are permitted to determine whether a claimant has breached the duty of care they owe themselves. In other words, if a person fails to take satisfactory measures to ensure their actions do not lead or contribute to their own harm, they may be liable as well.

In instances where a claimant is not wearing a seatbelt, the Act requires assessors and judges to use contributory negligence. Usually, this will result in a reduction in damages attained through a settlement.

While there is a decrease, typically this will not be the whole settlement.

Case study: Ragg vs. Palmer

In a 2016 case, the District Court of New South Wales looked at whether an 11 year old boy was partially responsible for the injuries he sustained due to his failure to wear a seatbelt. The plaintiff at the time of the crash was sitting in the rear passenger seat of the car. As a result of the crash he was thrown from the car and landed on a grassy area.

The claim of contributory negligence was thrown out because the judge was not willing to speculate what a preadolescent child would know in relation to wearing a seatbelt.

But the case is important as Courts know that wearing a seatbelt would have lessened the extent of the injuries suffered. Thus those that choose to not wear a seatbelt can be found liable for contributory negligence.

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