Virginia uses the doctrine of contributory negligence, which means that if you were even partially at fault for the accident in a small way, you are unable to recover any damages. That legal doctrine can leave crash victims wondering how to recover financially after a serious accident when they weren't wearing a seat belt.
The good news is that you can still pursue compensation through insurance or a personal injury lawsuit, but you do need to speak with an attorney about how contributory negligence may impact your case.
How Seat Belt Laws Affect Car Crash Injury Cases
Failing to wear a seat belt is against the law in the Commonwealth. An officer can give you a ticket if you weren't properly wearing one while driving, even if you've been in an accident. Lack of a seat belt is considered a "secondary" offense, however. This means a missing seat belt on an adult occupant alone isn't enough reason for local law enforcement to pull someone over.
Not wearing a seat belt at the time of an accident does not make you liable for that accident, however. Driving without wearing a safety belt isn't considered a negligent act when determining who ultimately caused the accident. It doesn't change who is responsible for the crash, nor does it prevent you from pursuing compensation for your costs.
The bottom line is that if the other driver behaved in a negligent manner, such as by engaging in distracted driving or drunk driving, then you wouldn't have been hurt in the first place. That makes the other person liable for your injuries regardless of whether you wore a seat belt or not when the wreck occurred.
Pursuing Compensation After a Crash Without a Seat Belt
Whether you worse a seat belt or not, it is important to avoid making any commentary about fault, or to apologize for the accident to make the other driver feel better. You don't want to ruin your chances at a successful financial recovery before the process truly gets started.
Even if you weren't wearing your seat belt and you were injured in the crash, you can still recover damages if you take the right steps. In particular, you want to be sure to:
Ask any witnesses for their contact details
Contact information will come in handy when pursuing compensation in your case.
Contact law enforcement and file a report about the accident with the police
Do not admit fault in any way, and avoid discussing the cause of the crash to the other party involved in the accident.
Gather photographic evidence of the accident scene to use later
These images may be necessary to determine how you were hit so liability can be properly established.
Get to the emergency room and let medical staff check for dangerous internal injuries
This is particularly vital if you weren't wearing a seat belt and struck your head during the crash. Seeing a doctor additionally starts an official paper trail on your injury. That's why you cannot skip this step, even if adrenaline from the accident makes you feel like you aren't in pain at the time.
Seek out a qualified Virginia car accident attorney
Don't give a recorded statement to insurance or discuss the specifics of the accident on social media until speaking with an experienced personal injury lawyer.
After that last step, your attorney can review your case and investigate the accident to determine both who is liable and how much compensation you deserve. Your financial recovery could potentially include elements like pain and suffering, lost income, and medical bills from the crash.