Seatbelts: they save lives. They are crucial to most people’s safety on a day to day basis. The hefty penalties that apply for failing to wear them or making sure your passengers do too reflect how important these devices are to our survival on the roads. Currently in Queensland, fines sit at $391 and 3 demerit points for drivers and passengers 16 years and older, with the driver subject to fines for each unrestrained passenger.
The statistics back this up: seatbelts prevent the chances of death in a motor vehicle accident by up to 45% and prevent serious injury by 50%.
In Queensland, an average of 31 people die each year and 166 are seriously injured as a result of not wearing seatbelts. With recent research showing up to 8% of Queenslanders still drive without seatbelts, it is obvious that some of us still do not appreciate the risks. Even an accident at speed of 40km/hr is capable of an impact equivalent to falling from a 2-storey building.
Sometimes, however, things can go wrong - even with these most well-intended apparatus designed to help us survive.
If you have been in a car accident that was completely or partially due to another driver’s fault, you can generally claim motor vehicle injury compensation from the compulsory third party insurer of the driver who was at fault for the accident.
The same applies if you are a passenger of an at-fault driver – you can claim against their compulsory third party insurer.
Generally, compensation is calculated by a comparison of your health and lifestyle before the injury, with your state as a result of the injury.
As mentioned earlier, seatbelt injuries would generally be accompanied by other injuries in an accident. It would probably be difficult, in most cases, to try and assess a seatbelt injury on its own.
The amount of compensation payable for an injury will vary greatly from case to case, depending on a variety of variables such as:
A variety of items can be claimed for, including;
General damages compensate you for the pain and suffering you have experienced as well as any permanent loss of enjoyment of life as a result of your whiplash injury. They are calculated by reference to the ISV Scale which rates the seriousness of any injury between 1 and 100 and accords a monetary value range to that rating.
For example, a serious neck injury is rated 16 to 40 with a monetary range of $27,370 to $95,000 whereas a minor cervical spine injury is rated 0 to 4 with a monetary range of $0 to $5,560.
Other elements that can be claimed for include:
The person wearing the seatbelt (or the person responsible for the seatbelt wearer – such as an adult caring for a child) improperly may be shown to have contributed (contributory negligence) to the injury.
The amount that person is shown to be responsible (by a percentage) for improperly wearing the seatbelt is the amount by which compensation they would otherwise be entitled to is reduced.
Josh picks his 3-year-old daughter Caroline up from childcare. In a hurry, he has forgotten her booster seat and so puts her in the back passenger seat. They are in an accident on the way home, and Caroline slips out from underneath the seatbelt upon impact. Injuries include severe bruising to her face, as well as a broken arm from the impact against the front passenger seat.
In this scenario, while Josh would still lay claim against the CTP insurer of the at-fault driver, the insurer would argue that Josh’s responsibility for his daughter’s injury was at a significant percentage. If this claim was successful, the amount that Josh would be entitled to receive in compensation if he had not been careless in securing his daughter for the ride home will be reduced by that percentage.
In this case, if
you might be able to claim against the vehicle / seatbelt supplier, or – if the seatbelt has been altered or replaced – the person carrying out those services.
Generally, where a seatbelt has been shown to prevent more serious injury or even death, this will be a factor for consideration when looking at any injuries relating to the seatbelt use in isolation (if this is possible).
Claims made for faulty goods – particularly where there is a ‘safety defect’ - may be made under the Australian Consumer Law. This is a different scheme to compensation laws in Queensland. Different tests apply – for example, in relation to the severity of the injury, and the amount of compensation which may be awarded.
Claims like this are complicated. A claim in negligence may also apply on the basis that manufacturers owe a duty of care to consumers.
Other examples of claims include if a supplier changes the product information – for example, changing labels or warranties. This would be a contractual claim. It could also apply to the contract of sale.
However, it can be difficult to claim against suppliers, manufacturers or service-providers. Claims like this are complicated because of 3 main factors:
When they do occur, seatbelt injuries tend to be for three main reasons:
Where another person is at fault, for example in the event of a motor vehicle accident, generally any injuries relating to the seatbelt would accompany other injuries.
Most common seatbelt defects include problems with the latch, the release / retractor or the tension detector.
For example, when a seatbelt’s tension triggers during an accident, it can then fail to release afterwards, making injuries already sustained even worse. Or, the latch may fail and as a result, fail to protect the wearer upon impact. After an accident happens, someone – the seatbelt wearer, a third party or an emergency worker - may have problems releasing a seatbelt, which can worsen injuries, too.
Some drivers and passengers can be particularly vulnerable to seatbelt injuries – for example, pregnant women who are not wearing the seatbelt across their hips (and risk harm to their abdomen), or children, who may slip under a seatbelt if they are not yet of a sufficient size to be seated in an adult passenger’s car seat. The law requires appropriate restraints for children up to the age of 7.
The seatbelt is designed for the our bodies to spread the impact of an accident across its more robust areas – the chest and pelvis. A range of injuries can commonly result from a seatbelt-related accident, including:
It’s important to get advice for your specific situation. Check if you can make a risk-free compensation claim and get free initial advice from our Principal lawyer, Greg Smith.
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