Maine State Police and other state police agencies kicked off a two-week seat belt enforcement effort May 22 to mark the start of the busy summer driving season. The annual “Click It or Ticket” campaign has been sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since 2003 and involves public service messaging along with enhanced enforcement by participating law enforcement agencies.
How Maine Buckles Up
Most people know that seat belts save lives and can reduce the severity of injuries. According to the Maine Department of Transportation and Maine Bureau of Highway Safety, about 85 percent of Maine residents consistently buckle up. Given the focus on seat belt usage, you might expect that not wearing a seat belt could defeat recovery in personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits involving automobile accidents. Maine, however, is one of 31 states that does not allow evidence that an accident victim was not wearing a seat belt.
A negligent driver who caused a victim’s injury or death in an automobile accident cannot argue that the victim’s injuries would have been prevented by wearing a seatbelt. Accident victims should not assume they have no case just because they did not wear a seat belt at the time the negligent driver struck them.
The Seatbelt Defense
Maine and other states reject the “seat belt defense” in automobile accident cases for reasons that include:
- Seat belt usage, or lack thereof, has absolutely no bearing on the negligence of the person who caused the accident
- It would be difficult to determine if the victim’s injuries or death would have been prevented by seat belt usage
Maine’s rejection of the seat belt defense is succinctly stated in Title 29-A, section 2081(5) of the Maine Revised Statutes:
“Evidence. In an accident involving a motor vehicle, the nonuse of seat belts by the operator or passengers or the failure to secure a child is not admissible in evidence in a civil or criminal trial, except in a trial for violation of this section.”
If you violate the laws requiring seat belt use, you may be cited for the violation. Evidence that you did not wear your seat belt could be used against you in a trial for violation of the statute. However, if a drunk driver crossed the center line and hit you head on, the fact that you were not wearing your seat belt would not be admissible in the criminal or civil cases against the drunk driver.
Morton v. Brockman
Negligent drivers defending themselves in federal court in Maine have argued that Maine state law banning the seat belt defense should not apply in federal court. In 1999 Fales & Fales successfully argued that Maine law should apply in federal court on the issue of seat belts.
The Bottom Line
Seatbelt usage should never be a factor when deciding whether to seek damages against a negligent driver who has caused injuries or fatalities.
To learn about other important factors to consider if you have been injured or your loved ones killed in an auto accident due to another’s negligence, refer to our blogs:
If you have been involved in a motor vehicle accident and have suffered injuries as a result of another driver’s negligence, contact Fales & Fales, P.A. for a free consultation online or by calling (888) 526-9408.