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Victim’s Failure to Use Seat Belts Irrelevant to Driver’s Liability in New Jersey

Victim’s Failure to Use Seat Belts Irrelevant to Driver’s Liability in New Jersey

New Jersey has historically left a question mark in car accident liability cases, one that pertains to “intervening cause.” This speaks to cases where a reckless driver was clearly responsible for an accident, but when something else — a passenger failing to wear a seat belt, for example — could be blamed for increasing property damage and bodily injuries.

That question may have been answered in a New Jersey State Supreme Court ruling in May 2013 when the court ruled on a tragic accident involving two police officers in North Brunswick that occurred in 2008. The driver survived the crash of the vehicle with a utility pole, but his passenger (a fellow officer) perished. The driver was charged with vehicular homicide, a charge that stuck with the Supreme Court’s ruling which considered the fact that the passenger was not wearing his seat belt.

The attorney arguing on behalf of the defendant driver noted that other states are clear on whether or not seat belt usage can be considered an intervening factor. Those states have it written into law, he said. But with this ruling, it now effectively becomes the law in New Jersey — a ruling that might affect cases already pending before the courts.

Intervening causes can have a significant material effect in the outcome of auto accident lawsuits. If party A is suing party B, the insurance company for party B can argue in some circumstances that injured party A bears some responsibility for his or her injuries. Something as simple as failing to get immediate medical attention after an accident lays open the plaintiff to being challenged on where injuries happened or if they were made worse by the victim’s “negligence” in delaying healthcare.

Clearly, New Jersey laws around auto accidents can lead to contentious disagreement on fault. Whether you are accused of causing an accident or if you are the victim, be sure to contact an auto accident attorney soon after the mishap. Experienced legal counsel can help establish a stronger case if engaged early in the accident aftermath.

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