Ask The Judge

Judge Frank R. Bayger

Judge Frank R. Bayger


Dear Judge Bayger:

A few months ago, I was in an accident with another vehicle that ran a red light.  His insurance company is refusing to pay for my injuries because I wasn’t wearing my seat belt.  Can the insurance company get away with this?


An Injured Party

Answer:   As it is with many situations, there is no simple answer to the question.  By failing to wear your seat belt, you essentially allowed the insurance company to limit their liability.  Seat belts are there for your protection, both physically and legally.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2010, seat belts saved 12,500 lives, prevented 308,000 serious injuries, and saved $50 billion in medical care and lost productivity.  The cost of medical care when seat belts are not used becomes a component of auto insurance claims.  Those increased costs are felt by all consumers through the premiums we all pay.

In New York, we are a “no-fault” state, therefore, your economic damages would be paid by your own automobile insurer, regardless of whomever was at fault, unless it exceeds $50,000.  You cannot make a personal injury claim against the other driver unless you meet the “serious injury” threshold, which is specifically defined in the New York Insurance Law.

Looking again at New York law, liability for damages can be reduced by the percentage the injured party is at fault for the accident or the damages.  If it can be established that your injuries could have been prevented or limited by the use of a seat belt, a court would be bound to consider that fact.  For example, if 20% of your damages were related to the failure to use a seat belt, then any award would be reduced by 20% (a $100,000 award would result in a $80,000 recovery).

An insurance adjuster will focus on your contribution to the damages, perhaps more so than a court would when trying to consider a settlement.  It would clearly be beneficial to have a knowledgeable and experienced personal injury attorney to guide you and protect your interest.

And it may go without saying, next time wear your seat belt.

(Retired State Supreme Court Justice Frank R. Bayger is inviting you to submit legal questions pertaining to personal injury or wrongful death cases to him for a published response.  Email your questions to Judge Bayger, a Hall of Fame trial lawyer, and the judge will respond in writing in the Niagara Falls Reporter.  Send your email to or write to the Law Firm of Frank R. Bayger, P.C., 2578 Niagara Falls Blvd., Niagara Falls, NY 14304.)

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