Of the drivers killed in road accidents in 2019, one-fifth were not wearing seatbelts.

Because failure to wear a seatbelt is such a risk factor for death and injury on roads, the law does its best to encourage drivers and passengers to use them at all times. If a member of An Garda Síochána catches you not wearing one, they can impose penalty points or fixed-charge fines.

Civil law also punishes the failure to wear seatbelts. If you suffer harm on the road and attempt to file a claim against another driver, you will be entitled to less compensation if you weren’t wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. However, that doesn’t mean you’ll be disqualified from claiming altogether.

What Is Contributory Negligence?

Contributory negligence is a legal doctrine under which plaintiffs receive less compensation if they played a part in causing the harm that befell them. This will usually be calculated as a percentage of monetary damages.

In some jurisdictions, contributory negligence absolves defendants of liability altogether. In Ireland, however, we have a system of apportionment of damages, per the Civil Liability Act, 1961.

Contributory negligence is not considered a defense in Irish law, but a basis for the reduction of damages in spite of wrongdoing. Put another way, this means a defendant who did something wrong will still be liable, but for a lesser amount of money.

If someone fails to exercise a reasonable standard of care for their own wellbeing during a given activity (by, for example, not wearing a seatbelt), this may be deemed contributory negligence.

Failure to Wear a Seatbelt & Car Accident Claims

Generally, failure to wear a seatbelt will reduce the value of a motor accident claim by around 25%. However, the rules on this are not concrete. It’s up to the judge in each case to reduce damages by an amount they feel is “just and equitable having regard to the degrees of fault of the plaintiff and defendant,” per the Act referenced above.

The most important factor here is the cause of your injuries. If your failure to wear a safety belt made what would have been a minor accident into something much more serious, your contributory negligence will account for a large proportion of the overall damages.

Unless you have a valid exemption, it’s an offense not to wear a seatbelt in a moving vehicle. Even if a belt would not have made a difference to the injuries you sustained, not wearing one will be viewed as negligent and could reduce the damages you recover.

Failure to wear a seatbelt also increases the length of time it takes to settle a car accident claim in most cases. This is because the insurance company you claim against will attempt to make your contributory negligence account for as big a percentage of the overall damages as they can, while your solicitor will do the opposite. Reaching a compromise here can take time.

Other Examples of Contributory Negligence

Other common instances of contributory negligence that arise in personal injury cases include:

  • Failure to wear a helmet while cycling
  • Delay in seeking medical attention after an accident
  • Failure to communicate all symptoms of an illness to your doctor (this is relevant tomedical negligence cases)
  • Improper adherence to safety rules and guidelines while using tools

In all cases, a judge will assess the degree to which your failure to take proper care of your own safety contributed to the harm you suffered, and reduce your damages accordingly. If your negligent conduct was illegal or against relevant guidelines or a code of conduct, this will also be taken into account.

Knowing Your Rights

There is a misconception that the failure to wear a seatbelt can invalidate a claim arising from a road accident. This is not the case. If you’ve suffered an injury due to someone else’s reckless conduct, you have the right to file a claim, notwithstanding any contributory negligence.

If you’ve had an accident and you’re considering pursuing a case, we can help. Get in contact today and we’ll connect you with one of our personal injury specialists. We’re based in Waterford City.