Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

What Is the 'Seat Belt Defense'?

One driver hits another and is the at-fault party in the auto accident—end of story. We would expect that the driver's insurance company pay for the personal injuries of the accident victims.

There are a limited number of defenses the driver or their insurer could raise to relieve them of responsibility at the time of the accident. The following article explains how a lack of seat belt use becomes a defense in some states.

Seat Belt Defense Theory

The seat belt defense itself is simple. Let's say the driver who isn't at fault for an accident didn't wear a seat belt. In some states, the responsible party could use the seat belt defense to reduce liability.

Generally, this defense will cancel out damages that wouldn't have happened if the person had been wearing their seat belt.

The seat belt defense arises because of car accidents' connection to the law of torts. Torts are legal claims where someone's injury occurred due to another person or entity's negligence or misconduct.

Two torts theories are generally associated with seat belt defense:

  • Comparative Negligence: The seat belt defense often comes up in contributory or comparative fault states. In these states, the judge or jury compares the actions of both parties and their contributions to the accident. Comparative negligence states use either "modified" or "pure" rules for recovery. Under the modified approach, the plaintiff can't recover damages if they were more than 50 percent responsible. Under the "pure" rules, the judge reduces the plaintiff's recovery amount by the percentage they're found to be at fault.
  • Plaintiff's Failure to Mitigate Damages: States may also reduce damages awards when the injured party fails to take reasonable actions to limit or "mitigate" their injury. Failure to mitigate damages usually refers to the injured party's actions after the accident. Still, some states interpret the driver's failure to wear a seat belt as a failure to mitigate damage.

Either theory can result in the reduction of damages.

Seat Belt Defense Jurisdictions

Seat belt laws vary between states. The limited number of jurisdictions that permit seat belt defense include:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Iowa
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin

Hawaii, North Dakota, Indiana, Mississippi, and Nevada have yet to clearly establish themselves either for or against the seat belt defense.

Some jurisdictions limit the potential reduction in damages. For example, Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, and Wisconsin limit the use of the defense.

The states below do not permit seat belt defense:



Rhode Island



South Carolina











New Hampshire



New Mexico



North Carolina




Washington D.C.




Get a Legal Claim Assessment From a Car Accident Lawyer

The seat belt defense may come into play in the litigation following a car accident injury. A personal injury lawyer's legal advice helps determine the strength of a particular car accident claim or defense. This prevents you from getting bullied by the at-fault driver's insurance provider.

After a car crash, it's overwhelming to file claims and gather police reports and medical records for the insurance adjuster. A personal injury attorney can provide a free case evaluation before you form an attorney-client relationship so you can receive full compensation for your personal injury claim.

In a personal injury case, negligence laws and mitigation of damages can become complex. For example, state rules may vary on the requirements of booster seats and the type of seat belt required for back seats. If you find yourself in a personal injury lawsuit, consult a defense attorney before responding to any motions or claims.

Contact a local car accident attorney for a claim assessment to learn how they can help.

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:

Next Steps

Contact a qualified auto accident attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Help Me Find a Do-It-Yourself Solution

Can I Solve This on My Own or Do I Need an Attorney?

  • A lawyer can help seek fair compensation on your behalf
  • Car accident claims are complex and insurance carriers have lawyers on their side

Get tailored legal advice and ask a lawyer questions about your accident. Many attorneys offer free consultations.


 If you need an attorney, find one right now.

Copied to clipboard

Find a Lawyer

More Options