Contributory negligence in road traffic accidents

Contributory negligence in road traffic accident claims. Is not wearing a seatbelt or helmet always contributory negligent? 

Contributory negligence in road traffic accidents

Not all personal injury claims involving road traffic accidents are open and shut cases where one person is clearly responsible for the crash and resulting injury.

Contributory negligence can be applied in a case where it is decided that the claimant may in some way have contributed to the injuries they received.

In a road traffic accident, this could be by not wearing a seatbelt or by getting into a car with a driver who is under the influence of drink and drugs.

If contributory negligence is proven, then anyone making a personal injury compensation claim following a road traffic accident could find the amount they are entitled to is reduced. But, importantly, it does not mean that they lose the right to claim compensation.

How much the figure is reduced by depends very much on the extent to which a judge decides a person’s actions contributed to their injuries.

Crucially, it does not have to be shown that their action or inaction formed part of the cause of the accident – only the consequences.

The precedent for this has been set down for many years in the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act of 1945.

“Where any person suffers damage as the result partly of his own fault and partly of the fault of any other person or persons, a claim in respect of that damage shall not be defeated by reason of the fault of the person suffering the damage,” the act says.

The legislation goes on to say that “the damages recoverable in respect thereof shall be reduced to such extent as the court thinks just and equitable having regard to the claimant’s share in the responsibility for the damage”.

Over the years there have been a high-profile cases involving contributory negligence and one of the most famous of these involved a claimant receiving compensation for their injuries despite not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident.

Under UK law, anyone aged 14 or over is required to wear a seatbelt when travelling in a car, coach, bus or mini bus; however, certain medical exemptions do apply.

In the case of Froom v Butcher, which took place before seatbelt laws were introduced, the judge decided that compensation may be reduced if the complainant’s lack of seatbelt contributed to the injury, although the main onus for the injury still lies with the defendant.

Lord Denning in his judgement of the case said: “Whenever there is an accident, the negligent driver must bear by far the greater share of responsibility.”

“If the plaintiff was to blame in not wearing a seatbelt, the damage is in part the result of his own fault. He must bear some share in the responsibility for the damage: and his damages fall to be reduced to such extent as the court thinks just and equitable,” he added.

Lord Denning’s guidance suggested that, if wearing a seatbelt would have prevented the injury all together, the accident compensation should be reduced by 25 per cent, and if it would have made the injuries less severe, compensation should be reduced by 15 percent.

This case is often cited when personal injury lawyers deal with road traffic accident claims involving contributory negligence.
A similar theory is sometimes applied when a cyclist makes a compensation claim following a road traffic accident.

Cyclists are not yet required to wear helmets by law but are generally advised to for safety. Sometimes in cases when the complainant who was not wearing a helmet the defendant will claim contributory negligence.

Much like with a road traffic accident the judge will be required to assess how much damage could have been prevented if the cyclist was wearing a helmet. For example, the Cyclists Defence Fund claims that many head and neck injuries sustained by cyclists are caused by rotation rather than direct impact, which means a helmet would have been little use.

Other times when the issue of contributory negligence may be brought up is if the defendant claims the cyclist was travelling too fast, failed to wear visible clothing or was overtaking in a queue of traffic.

Even if you believe that contributory negligence could be a factor in your road traffic accident compensation claim and want some free and impartial advice please contact our Fareham solicitors office on 01329 227974.

Contributory negligence in road traffic accidents

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