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No seatbelt does not mean automatic shared liability

DBM Law Blog

Recently DBM partner Joe McStravick represented a client who was injured in a motor vehicle accident that resulted in soft tissue damage around the plaintiff’s spine and neck. The injury occurred on May 23, 2008, while the plaintiff, Mr. Jackson, was driving his work vehicle. The accident was the result of another vehicle rapidly veering from the center southbound lane and into the lane in which Jackson was traveling. The injuries suffered by the plaintiff rendered him incapable of carrying out the duties required of his profession (plumbing), forcing him to seek another vocation. In addition, Jackson’s continuing pain had resulted in insomnia, depression, and limited his ability to participate in the activities that he once enjoyed.
One of the major issues in this case was the fact that, moments prior to the accident, Jackson was required to unbuckle his seat belt in order to adjust items in the back of his truck. When the accident occurred, the plaintiff had not yet re-buckled the belt. The defense argued that the absence of a properly secured seat belt rendered Jackson partially liable for the injuries that he had incurred.
This argument comes up repeatedly in personal injury claims that involve vehicle accidents. On more than one occasion, plaintiffs have been found partially liable for having neglected to buckle their seat belts. However, in order to be found liable the defense must prove that a plaintiff’s injuries were the direct result of an improperly secured belt. Occasionally a plaintiff’s injuries work against them. If an individual is thrown from a vehicle and suffers the majority of their injury due to their collision with the window and the ground, then it is relatively easy to prove that a seat belt would have significantly reduced their suffering. This was the exact circumstance in the 1995 BC Supreme Court case Greenall v. Watson, which serves as an example of the negative consequences that can occur if one decides to forgo a seatbelt.
However, this was not the case with our client, whose injuries could not be conclusively linked to his failure to wear a seat belt. In the words of Justice Greyell “I am of the view that the defendant has not established on the balance of probabilities that Mr. Jackson’s wrist was in such a position at the time of the collision that the injury would not have occurred or would have been less had he been properly secured by a seat belt.” Justice Greyell further pointed out that the “The difficulty with the defendant’s case is that he has the onus of establishing Mr. Jackson’s injuries would not have occurred or would have been lessened by his proper use of his seat belt.”
Although the lawyers at DBM will always encourage individuals to buckle-up before they hit the road, our latest case shows that an injury claim based on another’s negligence is not necessarily rendered moot by the lack of a seat belt.
You can read the full case at Jackson v. Jeffries.


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