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What Is the Seat Belt Defense Theory?

Posted in Auto Accidents

It can be difficult to navigate all the aspects of a car accident claim alone as an injured victim. The driver who crashed into you – and his or her insurance provider – may use several tactics to try to refute liability. Diminished liability means paying you less compensation for your injuries and damages. One strategy a defendant might try to use during your car accident claim in New Mexico is the seat belt defense theory. This is not a usable defense theory in New Mexico, however.

What Is the Seat Belt Defense?

The seat belt defense theory is a potential defense against car accident injury liability in certain states. If a defendant uses the seat belt defense theory, that defendant is attempting to reduce his or her liability for the plaintiff’s injuries based on the fact that the plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the car accident. The defendant is alleging the plaintiff’s comparative fault for his or her injuries for not buckling up. In general, this defense theory is only usable if wearing a seat belt reasonably would have prevented the plaintiff’s injuries (often based on medical expert testimony), and only if the state hearing the lawsuit allows this defense.

Can a Defendant Use the Seat Belt Defense Theory in New Mexico?

New Mexico has a universal seat belt law in place with primary enforcement. In New Mexico, a patrol officer can stop a driver and issue a citation solely for not wearing a seat belt. All motor vehicle drivers and their passengers must wear seat belts in the state. A child 12 years old or younger must use the correct child safety seat according to his or her age, height and weight. New Mexico law states that children under 7 and children less than 60 pounds (regardless of age) must remain in child safety seats. Furthermore, children ages 7 to 12 must use booster seats until they are tall enough for seat belts to properly fit them.

Despite having a seat belt requirement, New Mexico does not permit a defendant to use the seat belt defense. New Mexico Statutes Annotated Section 66-7-373 states that the failure to use a safety belt or child safety seat as required by New Mexican law does not constitute a plaintiff’s fault or negligence for car-accident related injuries, and cannot be something the courts or an insurance provider uses to limit a plaintiff’s damages. Any evidence the defendant has regarding the plaintiff’s non-use of a seat belt or child safety harness is inadmissible in civil trials in New Mexico.

The Seat Belt Defense Theory in All 50 States

Fifteen states currently permit the use of the seat belt defense in the US: New York, West Virginia, Ohio, Arizona, California, Wisconsin, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Alaska, New Jersey, Colorado, Oregon, Georgia and Missouri. Thirty states do not have a seat belt defense in place; 26 of these 30 states specifically prohibit the non-use of a seat belt as a defense theory. New Mexico is one of the states with a law prohibiting the seat belt defense. Therefore, in New Mexico, a defendant or insurance company cannot use your failure to wear a seat belt against you.

Although it is against state law not to wear a seat belt or put a child in a safety seat in New Mexico, with exceptions for proven medical reasons, doing so cannot lawfully be a reason a defendant uses to avoid liability or allege your comparative fault. Even with evidence that you were not wearing a seat belt, such as a ticket from a police officer, and injuries commonly connected to the failure to wear a seat belt, the defendant in your car accident claim cannot use this against you to deny liability. If a defendant or insurance company tries to use this defense theory, combat it and strike it from the record with help from a car accident attorney in Albuquerque.

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