Whenever an auto accident happens, questions of who is to blame are immediate. Police reports are filled out and accident investigation takes place in an effort to reconstruct all the details of the incident. Of course, medical care for anyone injured is of paramount importance and precludes everything else. But once this aspect of the crash is handled, focus on the why and how takes center stage.

It’s also understandable that the question of whether or not participants in the car accident were wearing seat belts is raised immediately. Wisconsin law requires that no person may operate a motor vehicle unless that person is properly restrained in a safety belt. Also, passengers over the age of 4 must wear safety belts, and children under 4 must be properly restrained in child safety seats. This is a primary enforcement seat belt law, meaning police are allowed to stop a vehicle solely for this traffic violation.

Seeking compensation for injuries suffered in a car crash is something to which the person harmed is entitled. Even if the evidence is clear as to the at-fault driver or circumstance, the issue of injury liability may be clouded if a question of seat belt use surfaces. Under Wisconsin statutes, evidence of compliance or failure to comply with seat belt laws is admissible in any civil action for personal injuries or property damage resulting from a motor vehicle accident. In other words, a plaintiff who breaks the law or is negligent in not using a seat belt can be partially responsible for his or her own injuries.

Settlement negotiations can become more complex with the lack of seat belts or child restraint as a relevant factor, although an at-fault driver’s negligence is not minimized as a result. In a trial, it can reduce a recovery award; however, the law caps the amount at 15 percent.

Source: Wisconsin State Legislature, “Chapter 347.48 Safety belts and child safety restraint systems” accessed Mar. 13, 2015