People who are injured in car, truck and motorcycle accidents in Delaware often want to know whether they can proceed with a case or lawsuit despite the fact that they weren’t wearing a seat belt or helmet at the time of the accident.
Related: Child Car Seat Safety in Delaware
In general, under Delaware car accident law, evidence that the plaintiff (injured party) was not wearing a seat belt or helmet is inadmissible to prove contributory negligence, i.e., that the plaintiff was negligent for not wearing a seat belt or helmet.
What is Contributory Negligence in Delaware Car Accident Cases?
Under Delaware’s contributory principle, which is often referred to as comparative negligence, negligence or fault in an accident will be assigned to all parties in a case. In Delaware, negligence is negligence no matter who commits it. Therefore, a defendant can allege that the plaintiff contributed to the accident or injuries. If a plaintiff is found to have contributed to the accident/injuries, the plaintiff is not automatically barred from recovering for their damages. Rather, Delaware law reduces the plaintiff’s recovery in proportion to the plaintiff’s negligence. If, however, the plaintiff’s negligence is greater than the defendant’s negligence, i.e., 51% or greater, the plaintiff cannot recover at all.
Failure to Use a Seat Belt
Delaware law specifically provides that the failure to wear a seat belt cannot be used in a civil lawsuit. See Delaware’s seat belt law, 21 Delaware Code § 4802(i), which provides:
Failure to wear or use an occupant protection system shall not be considered as evidence of either comparative or contributory negligence in any civil suit or insurance claim adjudication arising out of any motor vehicle accident, nor shall failure to wear or use an occupant protection system be admissible as evidence in the trial of any civil action or insurance claim adjudication.
Therefore, individuals who were not wearing seat belts and were injured in auto accidents caused by other drivers can still bring a lawsuit. Delaware courts will not allow at-fault parties to argue that the plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt amounts to contributory or comparative negligence.
Failure to Wear a Helmet in Motorcycle Accident Cases
Under Delaware motorcycle operating laws, riders over the age of 19 are not required to wear helmets when riding a motorcycle. Therefore, failure to wear a helmet cannot be used to argue that a plaintiff was negligent or otherwise contributed to the injuries. See McKinley v. Casson, a 2013 Delaware Supreme Court case (holding that a motorcycle rider’s failure to wear a helmet could not be used to argue that he was negligent).
Learn about your legal rights after a car or motorcycle accident in Delaware. Please contact our office to obtain a free consultation. (302) 658-1717
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