What happens to my car accident injury claim if I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt

if I Wasn't wearing a seatbeltcan i still claim for personal injury

The everyday reality of seatbelts

Seatbelts are essential. For most of us, tying our seatbelts as soon as we sit down in a car is as second nature as breathing – we almost don’t notice that we even do it.

The reason for this is simple: our Canadian society has widely accepted that wearing a seatbelt helps keep us safe while we ride in a car as a driver or a passenger, because it can entirely prevent, or significantly reduce, any injuries we may have if we were in a car accident.

Indeed – wearing your seatbelt is the law. We each have a legal responsibility to protect ourselves in cars by wearing our seatbelts. Every time we get in the car: we must put on our seatbelts. Not wearing your seatbelt is against the law.

When you are injured in a car accident and it’s not your fault – you most certainly have a legal claim you could advance against the at-fault driver for any injuries you experienced.

But what would happen to your claim if you were not wearing your seatbelt at the time of the accident?

Not wearing your seatbelt? What happens to your claim?

Put simply, what may happen to your claim if you were not wearing your seatbelt at the time of the accident is that you will almost certainly be found partially responsible for your injuries.

In our law, the thinking behind this concept is that – if you were wearing a seatbelt, you may not have suffered some of the injuries you had, or, that your injuries would not have been as bad as they were.

And since wearing a seatbelt is not just the law – but such a common, non-controversial, everyday practice that people do because they know it helps keep them safe while in a car – then it is difficult for someone to justify why they shouldn’t be responsible for at least some of their injuries if they weren’t wearing their seatbelt at the time of the accident.

In legal terms, this concept is generally called “contributory negligence”, and as the name suggests – it refers to the degree to which you “contributed” to the “negligence” (i.e. wrongdoing) that caused your accident.

What is “contributory negligence” and how does it affect my claim?

In practice, how this “contributory negligence” concept is applied is that a legal analysis is done to decide on a percentage split. This percentage split will represent how much you are responsible for your injuries for not wearing your seatbelt, compared to how much the driver that caused the accident is responsible for your injuries.

For example – you can be found responsible for as little as 1% of the extent of your injuries, or, over 50%! Ultimately, your claim could be reduced for as much as you are found to be “contributorily negligent” for your injuries.

Of course – the facts of how it happened will always be important. There may always be a situation where, for whatever reason, despite not wearing your seatbelt, you will be found not contributorily negligent. See for example the British Columbia court case of Shenker v Scott, 2013 BCSC 599, varied 2014 BCCA 203. Even though the claimant in that case was not wearing her seatbelt at the time of her accident, the court found she was not contributorily negligent for her injuries at all. The court found this was the case for two reasons: first, the defendant could not establish that the seatbelt available to the claimant to use was even working properly, and second – the defendant could not prove that the particular injuries the claimant sustained would have been lessened or prevented if she had worn her seatbelt.

MVA Responsibility

In other words – the analysis to decide on this percentage split for “responsibility” for your injuries can be highly driven by the facts of what happened: both when considering why you were not wearing your seatbelt, and also when looking specifically at how the other person’s actions caused the accident that you were in.

For example – when thinking about the seatbelt circumstances, questions might be asked of you such as: was your seatbelt working at the time of the accident? Did you voluntarily choose to not wear a seatbelt that you knew was working properly? Do you normally have a habit of never tying your seatbelt?

And for example – when thinking about the other person’s behaviour who caused the accident: were they driving too fast? Were they swerving or driving recklessly? Were they impaired while they were driving? Were they not driving appropriately to the road conditions?

Case example: what not wearing her seatbelt did to a claimant’s case

In a case very recently decided by our Alberta court, Russell v Russell, 2024 ABKB 182, the claimant was found to be only 5% contributorily negligent for her injuries from a car accident in 2015 where she was not wearing her seatbelt.

In setting the driver’s responsibility at 95% for her injuries, the court noted that he was simply driving too fast and without proper consideration for the snowy, icy and slippery road conditions that day. The court commented that snowy road conditions are well-known to Alberta drivers, and that the driver should have adjusted his driving to the conditions. This meant that for that claimant, the court determined her injuries were far more largely attributed to his driving behaviour rather than her not wearing her seatbelt.  The court heard evidence about each of her injuries and decided which ones were due to her not wearing a seatbelt – compared to which ones were due to the at-fault driver’s actions that caused the accident in the first place.

In the end, the court reduced her award by 5% to reflect her degree of responsibility for her injuries, but she was still able to advance her claim against the at-fault driver.

Contact Moustarah & Company

If you were injured in a car accident where you were not wearing your seatbelt, please consider contacting Moustarah & Company to speak with our experienced personal injury lawyers. We can discuss with you the particular facts of your situation and apply our knowledge of the law as well as our extensive experience working personal injury matters to determine if we would be able to help you advance your claim.  Contact Moustarah & Company today for your free Consultation