Yes, you might have a claim. In South Carolina, the driver and all passengers in a moving motor vehicle are required to wear seat belts. Furthermore, the driver of a car is responsible for seeing that every passenger 17 or younger without a driver’s license/permit is protected by a fastened safety belt (or a car seat for small children). There are, however, some exceptions to this rule. The seat belt law does not apply to drivers or passengers who are:
- In a vehicle with no seat belts available
- In a public transit vehicle other than a taxi
- In a parade
- In a church or school bus
- In a United States Postal Service (USPS) truck
- Injured patients or medical professionals in an emergency vehicle
- Unable to use a seat belt for medical/physical reasons
Comparative Negligence in South Carolina
In some states, failure to wear a seat belt as required by law is considered comparative negligence and can reduce your award or bar your claim for damages against the at-fault driver who injured you. South Carolina, however, is not one of those states.
Although we follow a modified comparative fault rule, which means your settlement can be reduced according to your portion of fault in a crash, South Carolina law clearly states that failure to wear a seat belt cannot be used as evidence of comparative negligence in a car crash lawsuit. You can be fined up to $25 for not wearing a seat belt in a moving car, but a seat belt violation will not:
- Appear on your driving record
- Be reported to your insurance company
- Cause you to be arrested
- Constitute probable cause for a vehicle search
- Prevent you from filing an insurance claim or lawsuit if you’re hurt in a car crash caused by someone else
Filing an Insurance Claim
You may file a civil lawsuit against a negligent driver who has injured you in a car accident even if you weren’t wearing a seat belt. Before going to court, though, your first step will probably be to file a claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company for your damages:
- Medical expenses
- Property damage
- Wages lost due to time off work for treatment/recovery
- Pain and suffering
Even though your failure to wear a seat belt cannot be used as evidence against you in court if your case goes to trial, the negligent driver’s insurance company could cite your non-compliance with the law as a reason to offer you an unfairly low settlement. Adjusters could deny your claim or offer you unfair compensation, believing you’re not apt to sue them.
If you do have a lawyer, however, your attorney will work to get you a fair settlement by taking the following steps if necessary:
- Conducting a thorough investigation to prove the at-fault driver’s liability
- Calling in expert witnesses such as an accident reconstruction worker
- Obtaining footage from nearby video cameras
- Organizing and presenting your medical evidence convincingly
- Putting a dollar amount on your pain and suffering to evaluate your claim
- Negotiating with the insurance company and demanding a reasonable award
- Fighting for you in court if your case goes to trial
Protecting Your Claim
If you’re injured while driving without a seat belt in a Charleston car crash, there are several things you can do at the scene to strengthen and protect your claim. If you’re physically able to do so after the wreck, you should:
- Move to a safe area.
- Call 911 to report the accident.
- Take photos of all vehicles involved in the wreck, as well as the accident scene.
- Get names and contact information from any witnesses to the crash.
- Exchange information with the other driver(s), but don’t discuss the wreck.
- Don’t admit any fault to anyone.
- Seek medical attention right away even if you don’t feel you’ve been seriously injured.
- Notify your insurance company.
- Consult a lawyer.