In Colorado, your injury damages can be lowered if you weren't wearing seatbelts. But you can still recover full damages for past and future medical bills, physical impairment and disfigurement.
Under Colorado law, the requirement to wear seat belts applies to front seat drivers and passengers. When an injured plaintiff in the front seat has failed to wear his seat belts and was injured in a car crash by a negligent driver, the failure to wear seat belts can be used to lower damages for pain and suffering.
Pain and suffering is difficult to define. It usually refers to a bucket of damages that includes emotional stress, inconvenience, and impairment of quality of life. Emotional stress is separate from psychological injuries such as PTSD, depression or anxiety. The good news is that seeking compensation for emotional stress as part of pain and suffering damages will usually not open up the rest of your psychological history to scrutiny. Pain and suffering damages for inconvenience refers to the inconvenience of attending numerous medical appointments, difficulty getting around, and having to take time off work or school for medical treatment. Impairment of quality of life often refers to missing-out on activities that you enjoy such as sports, camping, family gatherings, walking, working out, etc. It can also refer to the impairment to your quality of life due to chronic pain and other maladies caused by the car accident.
Under Colorado law, insurance companies and defendants can argue that your failure to wear seatbelts in violation of the state's mandatory seatbelt law should lower your recovery for pain and suffering damages.
The case that illustrates this point is Pringle v. Valdez, 171 P.3d 624 (Colo. App. 2007). In Pringle, the injured plaintiff, Valdez, was riding in the front passenger seat of a car driven by Pringle. Valdez was not wearing seatbelts and was severely injured when Pringle drove the car into a concrete barrier. Valdez's head broke through the windshield and caused lacerations and nerve damage that required surgery and led to permanent scars.
Valdez admitted he did not wear a seatbelt. Under 42-4-237(7), C.R.S., otherwise known as the seatbelt defense provision, Colorado juries are allowed to consider a person's failure to wear seatbelts for the purpose of lowering damages for pain and suffering. In Pringle, the Colorado Supreme Court concluded that pain and suffering included noneconomic damages for inconvenience, emotional stress, and impairment of quality of life. The Supreme Court, however, also concluded that pain and suffering did not include damages for physical impairment and disfigurement. Accordingly, while the seatbelt defense provision can be used to argue for lower damages for pain and suffering, it cannot be used to lower damages for physical impairment and disfigurement.