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What is the effect of failure to wear a seat belt on a personal injury claim in Massachusetts?

In Massachusetts, all drivers and passengers who are 13 years old and older must wear seat belts. Notwithstanding this rule are a few exceptions which include drivers and passengers of vehicles made before July 1966; taxi, livery, tractor, bus and truck drivers; emergency vehicle passengers and police and fire vehicle drivers; and postal workers on duty.

In personal injury actions based on motor vehicle accidents, the heart of the dispute is who is at fault for the accident. In determining who is at fault for the accident courts will look to all factors that could have led to the cause of the accident. However, courts in Massachusetts have consistently held that one factor rarely taken into consideration is whether an individual was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. The rationale behind this is that courts do not want a jury to misuse seat belt information in their determination of the facts and issues. They therefore exclude it from evidence during trial.

The failure to wear a seat belt may not be used as evidence to show fault of an accident. It may, however, be used when calculating the extent of the damages or comparative negligence in an accident. If a defendant can present evidence of causation which tends to show that the plaintiff’s failure to wear their seat belt has exacerbated her injuries, then a judge will be allowed to admit this seat belt evidence. In that case, the defendant has the burden of proving causation based on a failure to wear a seat belt. Therefore, if the defendant does not meet this burden then the trial judge has the right to exclude it from evidence. Likewise, if a defendant submits evidence that a plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt should be considered under the theory of comparative negligence, the defendant must meet their burden of proof before the evidence is allowed to be submitted to a jury.

Personal injury cases are often fact dependent and complex. They require an astute legal professional to handle the matter in a technical fashion. If you have any questions about personal injury matters, call us for a free consultation at 617-657-HURT (4878) or fill out our contact form here.

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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