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(608) 784-4370

What is the Seat Belt Defense?

Like other states, Wisconsin requires that motorists buckle up for their own protection. Endless studies have shown that seat belts not only save lives, but they also reduce the risk of serious injury in a car crash. Riding in a car without a seat belt on can dramatically increase the pain and suffering you experience in a crash.

Fastening child's seatbelt

But what happens if you’re involved in a crash and weren’t wearing a belt in violation of the law? In that case, the defendant could raise the “seat belt defense” and limit the amount of compensation you receive for your injuries.

Why Defendants Raise the Seat Belt Defense

In Wisconsin, a motorist is only liable to pay compensation if they are at fault for the crash. This is a simple concept. If someone drives into your car, you shouldn’t have to pay them compensation because you are not to blame. They are. Conversely, they should have to pay compensation to you if they were at fault for the collision.

Fault is based on negligence, which is defined as the failure to use reasonable care. Someone who is careless will cause injuries.

Failure to wear a seat belt is clearly negligent—in fact, it is against the law. As a result, defendants like to raise the argument that a motorist who doesn’t buckle up is at least partially at fault for their injuries. As you can see, the seat belt defense is an attempt by the at-fault driver to reduce their liability for the accident.

Does the Seat Belt Defense Work in Wisconsin?

Yes and no. Some states have completely prohibited drivers from even raising the seat belt defense. In other states, a defendant can always argue that your failure to wear a seat contributed to the accident, and defendants can reduce the compensation they pay.

Wisconsin has charted a middle path between these extremes. Under Wisconsin Statutes § 347.48(2m)(g), failure to wear a seat belt can reduce a victim’s damages—but only by a maximum of 15%. So if you fail to buckle up, you will at most receive only 85% of the damages caused by the negligent driver.

Who Decides Your Negligence?

If you settle a lawsuit, then the insurance companies will hammer out what percentage of fault to assign to each driver, including what percentage to assign based on a failure to buckle up.

Remember, failure to wear a seat belt is only one type of negligence. You might have committed some other act that reduces your compensation even further. For example, in addition to not wearing a seatbelt, you might have been speeding at the time you were struck, or you were talking on a cell phone.

The key point is that the seat belt defense can only reduce compensation by a maximum of 15%. Other negligent acts could cut into your compensation even further.

Call Our Car Accident LawyersOur car accident lawyers are standing by to review how much you might request for a car accident and analyze any factors that could minimize your compensation. Call Fitzpatrick, Skemp & Butler, LLC, today.