New York’s Seat Belt Laws

As most people know, New York has a law that requires all passengers in a moving automobile to wear their seat belts. The only exception to this is for baby seats or baby carriers. The use of seat belts not only saves lives but it also helps to reduce the extent of the injuries suffered by the survivors of automobile accidents. What many people do not know is that the use of seat belts also affects the extent and amount of any recovery for injuries sustained by a Plaintiff in a negligence case against a Defendant. In a negligence action, the Defendant may assert an affirmative defense that the Plaintiff contributed to the injuries insofar as failure to wear the seat belt exacerbated or aggravated the injuries by their failure to wear a seat belt. Each state is unique in its approach to the issue of the seat belt defense in the context of a negligence action.


What is the seat belt law in New York State?

New York State law requires all front seat passengers to wear seat belts. Children under the age of 16 must wear seat belts when they are in the front seat or the back seat. Children under the age of four must ride in safety seats.

New York has had at least some incarnation of the seat belt defense since at least 1974, with the seminal case of Spier v. Barker, 35 N.Y.2d, 444, 262 N.Y.2d 916 (1974). New York seat belt law essentially holds that a Plaintiff cannot recover for any injuries sustained that would not have been sustained but for the non-use of the seat belt. As an affirmative defense, it is necessary for the Defendant to show that the Plaintiff had a functioning seat belt available, which is not always the case, as on city buses, for example.

It is incumbent on the Defendant to show which injuries were caused by Plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt and how certain injuries were greater than they would have been but for Plaintiff’s failure to wear a seat belt. In any tort action, the Plaintiff has a duty to mitigate damages and the seat belt defense is part and parcel of that larger legal rationale. The Defendant must have competent evidence to bolster this argument. Often this will come in the form of expert testimony. As such, the seat belt defense of often only as good as the Defendant’s expert, who is subject to cross examination and testimony from Plaintiff’s experts. These Defense experts may well rely on bunk science.

If you or a loved one were harmed in an automobile accident, you must be prepared for all the defenses that the Defendant, through his or her insurance company, will throw at you. The Long Island seat belt injury lawyers of Napoli Shkolnik PLLC have the ability to stay in your case for the long haul and to ensure that you are compensated for your losses to the fullest extent of the law. You can call us directly at (212) 397-1000 or use our online contact form and someone will reach out to you about your case.