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The seat belt defense in California is an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense is a defense raised by a defendant. An affirmative defense is a defendant’s attempt to blame you for the crash.

How To Prove The Seat Belt Defense?

A defendant must prove 4 things to prove the seat belt defense:

  1. A working seat belt was available
  2. A reasonably careful person in your shoes would have used the seat belt
  3. You failed to wear the seat belt
  4. Your injures wouldn’t have happened if you only had used the seat belt

Items 1 and 3 are easy for a defendant to prove. Item 2 is easy too. Everyone basically knows that we should use seat belts.

Item 4 is not so easy. A defendant will likely need a medical expert to say that had you worn the seat belt then your injuries wouldn’t have happened. But that seems fairly speculative and it may be beyond the qualificaiton of a medical expert.

What Does California Law Say About The Seat Belt Defense?

Look at CVC § 27315. Known as the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, it basically says you should wear a seat belt. Good advice.

See too CACI 712, the jury instruction for the seat belt defense.

How Does The Seat Belt Defense Work?

If a defendant can prove the seat belt defense, then the jury can blame you for the crash and reduce any damages awarded. For example, say the jury awards $1000,000, but they also find you 50% at fault because you didn’t wear your seat belt. Then the award is reduced to $50,000.

In practice, however, most cases never go to trial so you won’t have to deal a reduction. Instead, you must deal with insurance companies who will use the seat belt defense (and any other defense) to lowball you.

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Evan Walker

Evan W. Walker is a La Jolla attorney who has practiced law since 2008. He has practiced law throughout California, Connecticut, and Louisiana.

Evan worked for and defended insurance companies during the first 7 years of his practice. Since 2015, he has represented people with personal injury and property damage claims and insurance disputes.

Evan’s practice is devoted to serious personal injury claims and catastrophic property damage claims. Areas of focus include security claims against bars and other businesses, government tort claims, fire and flood claims, and inverse condemnation. On behalf of clients, Evan has fought insurance firms, international companies, cities, bars, and casinos.

Evan regularly shares his expertise with other attorneys by teaching courses on insurance and inverse condemnation. He has taught several continuing legal education courses to Attorney Credits, a nationwide CLE company, and ProLawCLE, another nationwide CLE company. He also contributes to various podcasts and publications.


  • Member, State Bar of California
  • Member, San Diego Bar Association
  • Member, Consumer Attorneys of California
  • Member, Consumer Attorneys of San Diego
  • Member, La Jolla Bar Association
  • Member, La Jolla Village Merchants Association
  • Member, San Diego Chamber of Commerce