Updated on April 19th, 2023

Car Motorcycle Truck Accident Defense Law — Failure to Wear a Seat Belt

[Name of defendant] claims that [name of plaintiff] was negligent because [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] failed to wear a seat belt. To succeed, [name of defendant] must prove all of the following:

  1. That a working seat belt was available;
  2. That a reasonably careful person in [name of plaintiff]’s situation would have used the seat belt;
  3. That [name of plaintiff] failed to wear a seat belt; and
  4. That [name of plaintiff]’s injuries would have been avoided or less severe if [he/she/nonbinary pronoun] had used the seat belt.

[In deciding whether a reasonably careful person would have used a seat belt, you may consider Vehicle Code section 27315, which states: [insert pertinent provision].]

  • Failure to Wear Seat Belt as Negligence. Vehicle Code section 27315(i).

  • “Defendants . . . are required to prove two issues of fact: (1) the defendant must show whether in the exercise of ordinary care the plaintiff should have used the seat belt which was available to him (2) The defendant must show what the consequence to the plaintiff would have been had seat belts been used.” (Franklin v. Gibson (1982) 138 Cal.App.3d 340, 343 [188 Cal.Rptr. 23].)

  • “Upon a retrial the court or jury will determine whether in the exercise of ordinary care [plaintiff] should have used the seat belt; expert testimony will be required to prove whether [plaintiff] would have been injured, and, if so, the extent of the injuries he would have sustained if he had been using the seat belt ” (Truman v. Vargas (1969) 275 Cal.App.2d 976, 983 [80 Cal.Rptr. 373].)

  • In Housley v. Godinez (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 737, 747 [6 Cal.Rptr.2d 111], the court approved of the following jury instruction, which was read in addition to section 27315: “The Defendants have raised the seat belt defense in this case. First, you must decide whether in the exercise of ordinary care, the Plaintiff should have used seat belts, if available to him. Second you must determine with expert testimony the nature of injuries and damages Plaintiff would have sustained if he had used seat belts.”

  • “[Section 27315] permits the civil trial courts to instruct on the existence of the seat belt statute in appropriate cases, while allowing the jury to decide what weight, if any, to give the statute in determining the standard of reasonable care.” (Housley, supra, 4 Cal.App.4th at p. 747.)

  • “[N]othing in the statute prohibits a jury from knowing and considering its very existence when determining the reasonableness of driving without a seat belt.” (Housley, supra, 4 Cal.App.4th at p. 744.)

  • “There was evidence presented that appellant’s failure to wear a seat belt worsened his injuries. The foreseeability test clearly eliminates this act as a supervening cause because it is the general likelihood of the type of injury that must be unforeseeable in order to absolve defendant; the extent of injury need not be foreseeable.” (Hardison v. Bushnell (1993) 18 Cal.App.4th 22, 28 [22 Cal.Rptr.2d 106].)

  • “Expert testimony is not always required to prove that failure to use a seat belt may cause at least some, if not all, of plaintiff’s claimed injuries. [H Depending on the facts of the case, expert testimony may be necessary for the jury to distinguish the injuries that [plaintiff] unavoidably sustained in the collision from the injuries he could have avoided if he had worn a seat belt.” (Lara v. Nevitt (2004) 123 Cal.App.4th 454, 458-459 [19 Cal.Rptr.3d 865], internal citation omitted.)

  • “The seat belt defense does not depend on a Vehicle Code violation nor is it eviscerated by a Vehicle Code exemption from the requirement to wear seat belts.” (Lara, supra, 123 Cal.App.4th at p. 461 fn. 3.)
  • Defendant was convicted of Cal. Veh. Code § 27315, failure to wear a seatbelt. The court stated that because appellant asserted his conviction was not supported by substantial evidence, the court must determine whether there was any substantial evidence that supported the trial court’s findings. The evidence in the record showed that the officer who issued the citation testified that he only cited a person for not wearing a seat belt if he actually observed the conduct and that appellant in his own testimony vowed that he would never wear a seat belt. Therefore, the court found substantial evidence to support the conviction. The court also found the statute did not impinge on any fundamental right of appellant and, therefore, was not subject to the “strict scrutiny” standard necessary to invoke a compelling interest of the state to enact the statute. Further, the court found that the state had a compelling interest in saving lives and promoting the welfare of its citizens and held that California’s mandatory seat belt law served that purpose and was constitutional. Thus, the court affirmed the judgment.

    The court affirmed the trial court’s judgment, which convicted appellant for not wearing his seatbelt. The court held that there was substantial evidence to convict and that the statute was constitutional because the state had a compelling interest in saving lives. People v. Coyle, 204 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 1.

  • –In a prosecution of a driver for failure to wear a seat belt (Veh. Code, § 27315), substantial evidence supported conviction, and was sufficient as a matter of law, where the citing officer testified his practice was to cite only when he saw a person not wearing a seat belt, and where defendant vowed he would never wear one and asserted such was his right. People v. Coyle, 204 Cal. App. 3d Supp. 1.

  • Since virtually every citizen either drives or rides in a vehicle, no expert testimony was necessary to support the reasonable inference that a passenger sleeping in a big rig sleeper berth would have suffered less injury when the driver of a big rig truck locked the brakes and the truck was struck by a car if the passenger had been wearing a seat belt. Testimony was offered that the restraint in the sleeper fit tightly and prevented a sleeping passenger from moving at all. Expert testimony is not always required to prove that failure to use a seat belt may cause at least some, if not all, of the passenger’s claimed injuries. The question whether the absence of seat belt restraint constituted a proximate cause of the passenger’s injuries was one of such common knowledge that persons of ordinary education could reach an intelligent answer. Lara v. Nevitt, 123 Cal. App. 4th 454

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