A case decided on the 25th April 2012 lays down clear guidance of how much fault lies against a parent not using an appropriate child seat when a collision occurs.
The full case report includes a very helpful analysis of the law where people fail to wear seat belts in road traffic accidents and made a finding that the mother was 25% responsible for the catastrophic injuries caused to her 3 year old child despite being described in court as an excellent and caring mother.
The case followed a serious collision in which an oncoming vehicle driven by Williams lost control and swerved into the path of the vehicle driven by Mrs Hughes. She had placed her 3 year old daughter on a booster seat instead of using the 5 point harness child restraint seat that was also fitted in the car. The collision led to the death of Williams. His insurers accepted blame but sought a contribution towards the substantial damages they would have to pay since the child suffered a significant spinal injury.
Previous cases in this area really started with the case of Froom v Butcher 1976 which stated that where the injuries could have been avoided or would only have been minor had a seatbelt been worn then a finding of 25% contributory negligence would be applied. The mother’s insurers argued that less than 10% should attach to her because she had at least used a restraint even though it was not the appropriate one. This arguement follows the case of Capps v Miller where a motorcyclist who was wearing a helmet but didn’t fasten the straps had his damages reduced by this amount.
The court found that the injuries would have been substantially avoided and so followed Froom v Butcher in finding that the mother should contribute 25% to the damages to be awarded to the child (paid by her insurers).
Whilst the child will get paid in full and the mother won’t suffer financially as she was fully insured, the finding will no doubt always prey on her mind. It is a salutory lesson for all parents to not cut corners and always use the correct seat for young children or face the guilt of having a court decide you are responsible to a degree for any injuries suffered. The case remains a helpful and very clear statement of how courts will treat failure to be properly restrained.