In the latest of my run of articles on recent developments in the law of contributory negligence in personal injury cases, I have turned to the recent decision of the High Court in Emma Hughes (by Anne Marie Armstrong) v Estate of Dayne Joshua Williams, deceased (Defendant) and Louise Williams (Third Party)  EWHC 1078 (QB).
It is tempting to say that “everyone knows” the case of Froom v Butcher (1976) QB 286. It is frequently the starting point in cases where a reduction in damages for contributory negligence is argued in road traffic accident cases where the injured party was not wearing a seatbelt. Lord Denning laid down a benchmark of a 25% reduction where the wearing of a seatbelt would have been likely to have prevented the material injury, and a 15% reduction where it was likely to have “made a considerable difference”. These figures may appear low to a generation exposed to the mantra of ‘clunk click every trip’. However in 1976 there was no legal obligation upon motorists to belt up (this was introduced in 1983 for front and 1991 for rear seat passengers).
On 18 September 2006 the Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) (Amendment) Regulations (SI 2006/1892) came into force. Thereafter, other than in very limited circumstances, this obliged all children under 12 years or under 135 centimetres to be supplied with an appropriate car seat when travelling in a motor vehicles. The type of car seat varies according to the size and weight of the child. The law, Government guidance, and the plethora of manufacturers’ ‘recommendations’ could easily be described as confusing for parents. I am sure that many parents thus get it wrong, buy the incorrect seat for their children or allow their own judgment of what their child needs to override that of others. However, should the law continue to follow Hughs, it is clear parents should do so at their peril.Blair J, held that the mother was negligent in using a booster child seat to restrain her three year old child on a car journey instead of a child seat. The court held that as the injuries sustained by the child in a car accident would have been largely avoided if the child seat had been used. Thus it was held appropriate to order that the mother contribute 25% of the damages. This decision can be seen as an extension of the benchmark rule laid down in Froom, as well as a willingness on behalf of the judge to hold that parents should adhere rigidly to the letter of the law in this area.