Last January, the state of Tennessee joined 13 other states in adopting a primary seat belt law that fines first offenses. Last year, Tennessee was one of the states with the lowest penalties for first-time violations of the seat belt law. Today, the fine can top out at over $100 with a basic fine of $25. The reason for the spike in penalties, according to the Governor’s Highway Safety Office (GHSO), is the drop in seat belt usage in Tennessee. Director of GHSO, Kendell Poole was quoted as saying that thousands of Tennesseans are not wearing their seat belts anymore, and 47% of deaths from vehicular accidents in 2015 involved unrestrained motorists.
Although under Tennessee stature TCA 55-9-604, not wearing your seat belt is an inadmissible excuse, there are cases when it can be used against you and harm your chances of receiving compensation. Not wearing a seat belt and figuring in an accident that causes personal injury, property damage or both injuries and damage will hurt your case if you try to sue the auto manufacturer. Under Tennessee law, as the injured party, you must prove enhanced injuries, as the case would be product liability. On the part of the auto manufacturer, they can use the fact that you were not wearing a seat belt as part of their defense.
However, you have legal rights to sue the other party (at fault) for personal injuries and/or property damage with a high probability of getting properly compensated, regardless of whether you were wearing your seat belt or not, in the following cases:
• When you want to sue the other driver for causing an accident that led to injuries and/or property damage.
• When you want to sue a construction company for irresponsible management of roadway repair or construction.
• When you want to sue your insurance provider.
• When you want to file a case against a restaurant or bar based on liquor liability.
That being said, wearing a seat belt makes complete sense because even if you can sue for compensation, there are many other compounding issues you will face, including possible long-term medical treatment, permanent disabilities, or even death. In addition, under Tennessee law, everyone inside a vehicle is required to wear a seat belt and when possible, both the lap belt and the shoulder belt must be used.
Wearing a seat belt does not guarantee escaping injury in an accident, but the seriousness of the injuries will be minimized.
A personal injury case against a driver who caused the accident can include request for compensation on the following:
• Medical injuries.
• Loss of earnings.
• Permanent impairment or disfigurement.
• Pain and suffering.
• Loss of capacity to enjoy a normal life.
• Loss of consortium.
• Collateral source rule.
If your car or any other personal property is damaged, you can also file for compensation to repair the property or get the fair market value if the property can no longer be repaired. In case of wrongful death, you have the right to ask for money to pay for funeral expenses, medical bills, loss of earnings, loss of consortium, and the pecuniary value of the life of the deceased.
In the latest report by the Tennessee Highway Patrol, since January, over 103,000 individuals have been caught not wearing their seat belts. Compared to 2010, this is a 252% increase in citations issued; however, it has resulted in 50 fewer fatalities compared to 2014.
If you have been in an accident and need legal advice, contact Keith Williams Law Group now for a consultation about your rights and how you can find justice and a positive resolution.