Failure to Wear a Seatbelt in a New Mexico Car Accident: Is the Victim at Fault?

- Mark Caruso

If a Victim of a New Mexico Car Accident is not Wearing a Seatbelt, is that Victim Partially at Fault?

Even simple car accidents can bring about complicated issues.  This is because very few car accidents involve straight liability against a defendant since there can be many causes of a car accident.  This includes when a victim of a car accident may have contributed to the car accident.  This is known as comparative fault, and it is almost always an issue.  This will lower the amount a victim receives.

In New Mexico, NM Stat. 66-7-372 subdivision (A) requires all occupants of a motor vehicle to wear a seat belt.  In some states, victims of car accidents who do not wear a seatbelt can actually be comparatively at fault for their injuries.  This is because it is well-known that seatbelts can save lives and prevent injuries.  This comparative fault doctrine or theory is known as the “seatbelt defense.”

Seatbelts are Required in New Mexico, but is there a “Seatbelt Defense”?

However, even though New Mexico requires all occupants of a motor vehicle to wear a seatbelt, New Mexico law does not find this to be an instance of comparative fault.  This was first discussed by the New Mexico Supreme Court in Thomas v Henson which found there was no common law “seatbelt defense” in New Mexico and the Legislature would be required to permit one.

One year later, the Legislature considered the Supreme Court’s decision and enacted the Safety Belt Use Act.  This codified NM Stat. 66-7-373, which provides under subdivision (A) that the “[f]ailure to be secured by a child passenger restraint device or by a safety belt as required by the Safety Belt Use Act [66-7-370 NMSA 1978] shall not in any instance constitute fault or negligence and shall not limit or apportion damages.”  This second of law makes it clear that there is no statutory authority for the “seatbelt defense.”

No Seatbelt Defense in New Mexico Means No Comparative Fault

The Supreme Court has found no common law (judge made) seatbelt defense in New Mexico, and the Legislature has found no statutory law for the seatbelt defense.  This means that a victim of a New Mexico car accident who is not wearing his or her seatbelt cannot be comparatively at fault for not wearing a seatbelt.

This is a huge finding, as this could significantly reduce a victim’s recovery.  In some states which have the seatbelt defense, if the jury awards a victim $100,000 and finds the defendant 100% at fault for rear ending the victim, but the jury also finds the victim is 50% at fault for not wearing his or her seatbelt, the victim will only recover $50,000.  In New Mexico, the victim would still recover $100,000.

Even if You Are Not Wearing Your Seatbelt in a New Mexico Car Accident, You Will Not be Found Comparatively at Fault!

If you or a loved one has been injured in a motor vehicle accident, call the experienced New Mexico car accident attorneys at the Caruso Law Offices, P.C. today by dialing (505) 883-5000 You can also contact us on our website through the easy to use and convenient Contact box located by clicking here.