Can I Claim Compensation if I Wasn’t Wearing a Seat Belt in New York?

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    People who are injured in car accidents often go to court to sue those who injured them for damages. However, if the plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt, they may be worried that that fact will have an impact on their case or that not wearing a seat belt may prevent them from filing a lawsuit in the first place or expose them to legal penalties.

    If you were not wearing a seat belt when another driver injured you in a car accident, you can still recover damages and get financial compensation. However, the defendant can bring up the fact that you were not wearing a seat belt and use it against you to lower the amount of damage you will get.

    If you have concerns about your situation, call The Carrion Law Firm’s New York car accident lawyers at (718) 841-0083 and get a free case review.

    Seat Belt Laws in New York

    New York’s seat belt usage requirements are outlined in V.A.T. Law § 1229-C. Essentially, all drivers and passengers must wear a seat belt in a moving vehicle at all times, if possible.

    New York Seat Belt Laws for Drivers

    Under New York Law, citizens are prohibited from operating motor vehicles without a seat belt on. Failure to wear a seat belt or make sure that passengers are wearing seat belts can result in minor fines.

    New York Seat Belt Laws for Passengers

    Like drivers, passengers are required to wear seat belts while in motor vehicles in New York. However, requirements are different for different passengers, and there may be exceptions to this rule in some circumstances.

    Passengers of motor vehicles who are under the age of four need to be secured in an appropriate “child restraint system.” This includes car seats, booster seats, and other things used to help keep young children safe in motor vehicles. The requirements will vary based on the age, size, and weight of the child in question. For example, a child who is under four years old but weighs more than 40 pounds may require a restraint designed for an older child.

    New York Seat Belt Laws for Buses

    Buses have their own specific requirement for seat belt usage separate from the requirements for passengers of ordinary vehicles. Under V.A.T. Law § 1229-C(9), buses do not need seat belts.

    Vehicles Without Seat Belts in New York

    Although New York laws require occupants of vehicles to wear seat belts, there are some vehicles that do not have seat belts for all occupants or do not have seat belts at all. Modern motor vehicles are required to have seat belts per V.A.T. Law § 383. However, there are other standards for older vehicles and vehicles of specific types that our Harlem car accident lawyers can help you with.

    Older Vehicles

    Vehicles manufactured after June 13, 1964, that are a 1965 model or a model of a later year must have two seat belts in the front seats. For the first half of the 20th century, motor vehicles were not required to have seat belts in the United States. Seat belts became Federally required for all seats of all cars in 1968. Given that there is a four-year gap between 1964 and 1968, some old vehicles may need to be modified to comply with Federal requirements, even if they meet the requirements of the state of New York.


    Buses are required to have a seat belt for the driver, but not for passengers. However, school buses do still require that seat belts be available for passengers, but they do not need to be shoulder and waist seat belts; they can be simple lap belts.

    Rural Letter Carriers

    Rural letter carriers are exempt from wearing seat belts when they are performing the duties of their job. A rural letter carrier is a mail delivery vehicle that operates in a rural area.

    Taxis and Limousines

    Taxi cabs and limousines are required to have clearly visible seat belts.

    New York’s “Seat Belt Defense”

    One quirk of New York law is something called the “seat belt defense.” In many states, whether a plaintiff was wearing a seat belt or not cannot be brought up at all during a car accident lawsuit unless the plaintiff alleges that a problem with the seat belt caused their injuries. However, in New York, the defendant is allowed to bring up the fact that the plaintiff did not use their seat belt.

    This was established in the case Spier v. Barker (1974), where a NY State appeals court held that the jury is allowed to consider evidence that the plaintiff was not wearing their seat belt when they got injured in determining liability or how much the plaintiff is owed in damages. However, there is a catch: the defendant must also prove that the plaintiff’s lack of a seat belt was a reason that they got injured. So, if the plaintiff would have been injured whether they were wearing a seat belt or not, the seat belt defense may not have much of an impact.

    Moreover, the seat belt defense cannot be used to deny liability. A defendant who would otherwise be held liable cannot suddenly win their lawsuit just because they were not wearing a seat belt. However, the seat belt defense can be used to diminish how much you are going to get in damages.

    Our lawyers are aware of the seat belt defense and how it is used by defendants. We know how to combat these types of arguments and can work to emphasize the important parts of your argument so that the jury is not led to a different conclusion by the defendant.

    Talk to Our New York Car Accident Lawyers Today

    For a free case review, call The Carrion Law Firm’s Brooklyn car accident lawyers at (718) 841-0083.