Last Updated: 6/15/2023
The short answer is yes, you still have a case. However, Iowa law requires all front-seat occupants wear a seat belt and anyone under the age of 18 (who is not in a car seat) to wear a seat belt in both the front and back of a vehicle. Iowa has a system which is called comparative fault. In 2018, the Iowa legislature passed a new law (Iowa Code Section 321.445) increasing the percentage of fault you can be found from 5% to 25% for failing to wear a seat belt when required to do so by law.
Why is this important?
Because for every percentage of fault you are found by a judge or jury, your damages are reduced accordingly. For example, if you are the driver or front-seat passenger who is not wearing a seat belt during a car crash caused by someone else and your total damages are $100,000. If you are found to be 25% at fault, then you are only allowed to recover $75,000 because your damages were reduced by 25% (100,000 X 25% = 25,000).
Insurance companies will also argue that you can be found comparatively at fault for failing to wear a seat belt in the back seat even though it is not illegal. While there is no conclusive case on this issue, district courts have gone both ways.
Sometimes, the judge will require the defendants and their insurance company to submit medical evidence in court which usually consists of a doctor or other expert testifying about how your injuries would have been less severe if you were wearing a seat belt. There are several studies that these experts can cite to support their position. Also, if the jury knows that you were not wearing your seat belt they may be more critical of you and provide you less compensation overall in addition to finding you partially at fault. It is normal for jurors to think using what we call attribution bias. This means that jurors do not want to imagine that they could be injured like you were in a car crash, so they will try to find fault in what you did to cause your injuries. For example, I always wear my seat belt and because he/she did not wear a seat belt he/she was injured or my friend was in a terrible car accident caused by a drunk driver, but he was wearing his seat belt and not injured or my son was rear-ended in a car accident and thankfully he was not injured because he was wearing his seat belt. There are many other examples of this, but you can see how a juror may try to place blame on the injured party in order to avoid painful thoughts that they or a loved one could be injured in a car accident.
Good Reasons To Always Wear A Seatbelt
1. Statistics show that wearing a seat belt should prevent you from being ejected in a car crash which is among the leading causes of death;
2. Scientific data shows that overall injuries are less severe in a car crash when a person is wearing a seat belt;
3. Your damages may be reduced because of your fault for not wearing a seat belt;
4. If you are over 18 and riding in the front seat you will end up with a ticket and fine to pay.
There can be several extenuating circumstances that impact accident fault. It may require seeking legal counsel. A Des Moines personal injury attorney at Walker, Billingsley & Bair can handle these types of traffic cases and can help determine who is at fault in a car accident.