Under New Jersey law, when a motor vehicle is in motion on public property, all occupants must be wearing an authorized seatbelt, regardless of where they are sitting. Sometimes, however, we get distracted and forget. What happens if you are involved in a motor vehicle crash, caused by someone else’s carelessness, and you weren’t wearing the proper restraint? Can you still seek compensation for your losses?
Even though the law requires you to wear a seatbelt, the failure to do so will not act as an absolute bar to recovery of compensation for your injuries. The amount you can recover, though, may be reduced or limited. Here’s why.
In New Jersey, in a personal injury claim, the court must make two key determinations—1) the full extent of each party’s losses, and 2) the extent to which each party caused the accident or loss. Under New Jersey’s modified comparative negligence approach, the jury will first calculate all your losses, regardless of fault. For example, you may have damages totaling $500,000, attributed to loss of income, unreimbursed medical expenses, loss of enjoyment of life, loss of companionship or consortium, or physical pain and suffering.
Once that calculation is complete, the jury will determine the extent to which you caused your injuries. When doing so, they will consider whether your actions at the time of the accident were reasonable. Because the law requires that you wear a seatbelt, the jury may (and typically does) conclude that the failure to wear a seatbelt was not reasonable, making you somewhat responsible for the full extent of your injuries. If the jury finds that your carelessness (in not wearing a seatbelt) was more than 50% responsible for your injuries, you won’t be able to recover anything. If, on the other hand, the jury finds you less than 50% responsible, you’ll still be able to recover something—your total damage award will be reduced by the percentage of your liability.
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