According to Florida Statute Section 316.614 (4), it is unlawful for any person: (a) To operate a motor vehicle in this state unless each passenger and the operator of the vehicle under the age of 18 years of age are restrained by a safety belt or by a child restraint device pursuant to s. 316.613, if applicable; or (b) To operate a motor vehicle in this state unless the person is restrained by a safety belt. Florida Statute Section 316.614 (5) further states that it is unlawful for any person 18 years of age or older to be a passenger in the front seat of a motor vehicle unless such person is restrained by a safety belt when the vehicle is in motion.
In addition, Florida Statute Section 316.613 (1) (a) states that every operator of a motor vehicle as defined herein, while transporting a child in a motor vehicle operated on the roadways, streets, or highways of this state, shall, if the child is 5 years of age or younger, provide for protection of the child by properly using a crash-tested, federally approved child restraint device. For children aged through 3 years, such restraint device must be a separate carrier or a vehicle manufacturer’s integrated child seat. For children aged 4 through 5 years, a separate carrier, an integrated child seat, or a seat belt may be used.
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In July, 2009, the Florida legislature amended Florida Statute Section 316.614 (8) to remove language that previously allowed a motorist to be cited for a seatbelt violation only if a driver had first been detained for violating another motor vehicle law. Now, a motorist can actually be detained and cited for not wearing a seatbelt even if he/she is not cited for committing any other violation. In addition to monetary penalties imposed for violation of Florida Statute Section 316.614, failure to comply with this seatbelt law can and will be used against you by an at-fault driver and his/her liability insurance carrier in your negligence claim for injuries- even if that at-fault driver was cited for causing the collision.
Florida Statute 316.614 (10) states that while failure to wear your seatbelt will not constitute negligence per se, nor shall such violation be used as prima facie evidence of negligence or be considered in mitigation of damages, such violation may be considered as evidence of comparative negligence, in any civil action. The practical effect is that a jury in a negligence lawsuit can find you up to 50 percent at fault for the cause of your injuries if you were not wearing your seatbelt at the time of your motor vehicle accident. If that occurs, the amount that a jury awards you will automatically be cut by the percentage of fault that a jury finds you for not wearing your seatbelt.
Now, a motorist can actually be detained and cited for not wearing a seatbelt even if he/she is not cited for committing any other violation.
Regardless, under Florida case law a Defendant in a lawsuit still has the burden of pleading and proving that you did not use an available and operational seatbelt, that your failure to use the seatbelt was unreasonable under the circumstances, and that there was a causal relationship between the injuries that you sustained and your failure to buckle up. The Defendant has the burden of proof in providing “competent evidence” of this causal relationship that is not uncertain, speculative, or conjectural because that is the evidentiary standard applicable to Plaintiffs for establishing their damages.
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Often times, liability insurance adjusters for the at-fault driver fail to offer any substantial, competent evidence to show this causal connection. It is obviously much easier for the at-fault party to show a causal connection between your non-use of a seatbelt to a facial or head injury than it is if you have sustained an internal injury, such as an injury to your spine. For practical and legal reasons, don’t forget to make sure you and your passengers buckle up!
— Michael Truax
NOTICE: The article above is not intended to serve as legal advice, and you should not rely on it as such. It is offered only as general information. You should consult with a duly licensed attorney regarding your Florida legal matter, as every situation is unique. Please know that merely reading this article, subscribing to this blog, or otherwise contacting Bogin, Munns & Munns does not establish an attorney-client relationship with our firm. Should you seek legal representation from Bogin, Munns & Munns, any such representation must first be agreed to by the firm and confirmed in a written agreement.