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California’s Comparative Negligence and Seat Belt Laws

How Not Wearing a Seat Belt Can Be Used Against You With Comparative Negligence Laws

In 2018, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) issued 27,136,792 driver’s licenses and registered over 25,646,228 automobiles. New drivers are on the road practically every day, along with newly registered vehicles. With a frequent increase in drivers and car owners, the possibility of an accident may continue to rise.

Los Angeles is known for its busy traffic and reckless drivers. These two factors contribute heavily to a car crash. If you are a victim of a car accident and would like to file a lawsuit against the driver at-fault for damages, West Coast Trial Lawyers will help you get the maximum compensation you deserve. 

Comparative Negligence Defined 

Comparative negligence can negatively affect the amount of damages awarded in a personal injury claim. If the plaintiff is deemed partially responsible, the amount discounted from their claim is measured based on the court’s determination of fault

In states that abide by Comparative Negligence statutes, a victim or plaintiff may be partly responsible for an accident. In car crash cases, this could refer to a victim’s lack of following road rules, level of intoxication, or even the condition of their automobile. 

For example, a plaintiff would have a difficult time earning damages if they were heavily intoxicated and ran into the street without warning. Courts will determine comparative negligence based on reasonable considerations. There are 3 comparative negligence categories

  1. Pure Comparative Negligence. When a plaintiff or “victim” is deemed responsible for most or 90 percent of the accident, they are only able to recover 10 percent of their damages. California is a Pure Comparative Negligence State and usually allows the plaintiff to at least recover a partial claim. 
  2. Modified Comparative Negligence 1. States like Colorado and Maine will NOT grant any rewards if the plaintiff is deemed exactly 50 percent liable for the accident.
  3. Modified Comparative Negligence 2. In Hawaii, Iowa, and other states a plaintiff may NOT be granted any awards if they are found to be at least 51 percent responsible. 

Contributory Negligence

States that abide by “contributory negligence” laws mainly favor the defendant. If the plaintiff is considered responsible for even 5 percent of the accident, they are not awarded any compensation. 

In contributory negligence states, if the injured party is judged to have any responsibility in the accident, they will typically be burdened with the full cost of their medical bills, property damage, loss of income, and pain and suffering.  

Seat Belt Laws in California 

According to California seat belt laws, all passengers in the front and back seats are required to wear a seat belt if they are at least 16 years old. Depending on the type of car you have, your seat belt may be customized. 

The Seat Belt Law however, only states that the seat belt must cover the lap and doesn’t have to cover the chest, as it does in most modern vehicles. The law also states that the owner of the car must provide working seat belts for all passengers in the vehicle. This also applies to taxis and rideshare cases

Fines and Penalties 

If you do not follow the seat belt law in California you are subject to the following fines: 

  1. $20.00 for first time offenders 
  2. $50.00 for each charge afterwards 

In some states this fine might be accompanied with mandatory traffic school classes.

Child Seat Belt Law 

Based on weight and size, children are more likely to suffer personal injury and wrongful death during a severe car crash. Therefore, California holds children to a higher level of safety regulations. These rules include:

  • Children under 2 years old are to be placed in a rear-facing seat. If the child is over 40 inches tall or over 40lbs they can be placed in a front-facing seat.
  • Children under the age of 8 are required to be strapped in a booster or car seat in the back of the car. 
  • Safety belts are used for children who are over 8 years old or any child that is 4’9. 

If a parent or guardian violates the seat belt law by not properly restraining a child under 16 years old, they will be fined $490.

Will Wearing a Seat Belt Affect Your Insurance Claim? 

Since California is a comparative negligence state, abiding by the seat belt law is highly recommended. In fact, the rewards from your insurance claim can be heavily reduced if you are found negligent. Wearing a seat belt will not only sway the jury in your favor, but will help you get the largest settlement possible. To increase your chances of the best possible settlement be sure to talk to a car accident lawyer today. 

Available Damages

Economic Damages
Economic damages are intended to compensate a plaintiff for losses that a dollar amount can readily be attached to. Economic damages are calculated by determining the amount of out-of-pocket losses an aggrieved individual has or will expect to incur as a result of their injuries. 

A few examples of economic losses include:

  • Loss of Earning Capacity
  • Medical Bills
  • Lost Wages

Non-Economic Damages
Non-economic damages are essentially intended to cover losses that are thought of as subjective and will not necessarily cover out-of-pocket losses. Non-economic damages may include compensation for:

  • Emotional Distress
  • Pain And Suffering
  • Loss of Enjoyment of Life

Punitive Damages
The third type of damages a California court may award are known as punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended as punishment and are only awarded when a defendant’s behavior is especially harmful. Punitive damages are relatively rare and in fact were only incorporated in 5 percent of all verdicts.

What Can a Car Accident Lawyer in Los Angeles Do for You?

If you have sustained injuries as a result of another person’s carelessness, you have the right to hold that individual responsible. A personal injury attorney at our firm can help you recover financial compensation for the losses you have suffered, including medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering from your injury. 

Call us today at (213) 927-3700 or email [email protected] to schedule a free consultation with our experienced, caring and compassionate legal team.

Read More About Car Accidents 
Our excellent team of car accident attorneys have created several resources for you to read through. Feel free to browse these topics and read the ones you would like to learn about more. 


If you have been injured in an accident, you can count on the legal team at West Coast Trial Lawyers to fight for your rights every step of the way. Contact us today to schedule your free case evaluation with a personal injury attorney.
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