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Jones v. Alayon – Challenging the Seat Belt Defense

Florida law – specifically F.S. 316.614 – requires all front seat passengers and anyone under the age of 18 to be restrained by the proper safety belt system, whether that’s a seat belt or a car seat or a booster seat. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There are a few exceptions (school buses, farming vehicles, large trucks, motorcycles, etc.), but generally, most vehicles are included in this requirement.

In addition to the fact that wearing one’s seat belt is a legal requirement and is known to reduce injuries, there is another key incentive: Failure to do so in Florida could result in a finding of comparative negligence, which could reduce the overall damages to which you may be entitled in a traffic accident lawsuit. This is true even when the injured person had no other responsibility in causing the crash.

Our Palm Beach auto collision lawyers want to be very clear here: Failure by victim to wear a seat belt does not mean the courthouse doors are closed. Because Florida follows a pure comparative fault model when it comes to plaintiff liability, even plaintiffs who are 99 percent liable for their own injuries can still collect damages on that 1 percent of fault held by someone else.

So failure to wear a seat belt, particularly when plaintiff was not to blame for the crash, will not bar the claim.

The recent case of Jones v. Alayon, reviewed by Florida’s 4th DCA, is a good example.

The lawsuit was filed by the daughter of a man killed after his vehicle was struck by an off-duty police officer who fled the scene. The impact of the crash sent the decedent into a guardrail, overturned the vehicle and ejected him. He was subsequently struck by several other vehicles. Authorities said he died either upon impact with the pavement or from being struck by other cars. He was not wearing a seat belt.

But his daughter argued he always did. The only reason he wasn’t this time, she said, was because several coins had gotten stuck in the seat belt, the result of her father digging around in his pocket for change at the tolls. She had unsuccessfully tried to help him get the coins out with a tweezer two weeks earlier. They concluded a new seat belt was necessary, but he hadn’t had time to have it replaced when the accident occurred.

Defendant, who was ultimately arrested and criminally charged, offered an affirmative offense in the civil case, conceding his negligence caused the crash. However, he argued, he was not responsible for the extent of decedent’s injuries because they would not have been so severe had he been buckled up.

Plaintiff countered the seat belt defense shouldn’t be allowed in this case because the seat belt in question wasn’t operable. Defense countered by arguing decedent was negligent in causing the defect and in failing to fix it.

Jurors agreed with the defense, and assigned just 30 percent of the blame to defendant and 70 percent of the blame to decedent. Of a nearly $330,000 verdict, plaintiffs would only receive about $94,000.

Plaintiffs appealed, but the 4th DCA found no abuse of trial court discretion.

The seat belt defense isn’t always raised in cases where injured or decedents were not wearing a seat belt, but injury lawyers must be prepared for the possibility. Our attorneys understand that every case is different, and we are prepared to meet each unique challenge with compassion and a desire for justice.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights.

Additional Resources:

Jones v. Alayon, April 8, 2015, Florida Fourth District Court of Appeal

More Blog Entries:

Fatal Florida Van Crash Investigated by Federal Authorities, April 4, 2015, Palm Beach Accident Lawyer Blog

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