Legal Principles and Key Points
- In the case of Froom v Butcher  Q.B. 286, it was held that where injuries resulting from a road accident would have been prevented/lessened if a fitted seat belt had been worn, the failure to wear a seatbelt amounts to contributory negligence on the part of the plaintiff, and damages awarded should therefore be reduced.
Facts of the Case
- On 19th November 1972, C was driving home with his wife beside him and his daughter behind. Neither C nor his wife was wearing seat belts.
- C was going carefully on his near side of the road at his normal speed of 30 to 35 miles an hour.
- D tried to overtake a line of traffic coming in the opposite direction to C. Going too fast to stop, D struck C’s car head-on. D was later convicted of careless driving.
- C, his wife, and daughter were all injured. C was forced up against the steering column, breaking a rib and bruising his chest. C would probably have been saved from these injuries if he had worn a seatbelt.
- C also had a broken finger, but the seat belt would not have saved that. C’s injuries were minor enough for him to return to work the next day.
- C’s wife was also injured but the seatbelt would not have saved her from her injuries.
- Should C’s damages be reduced because C was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident?
Held by the Court of Appeal (Civil Division)
- Finding for D, that the prudent man should guard against the possibility of negligence by others by wearing a seat belt. The chances of injury are four times as great when a seat belt is not worn.
- In determining whether contributory negligence is made out the proper question is not what/who caused the accident, but what was the cause of the damage.
- Where injuries would have been altogether prevented by the wearing of a seat belt, damages should be reduced by 25%. Where injuries would have been ‘a good deal less severe’ the reduction should be 15%.
- Contributory negligence is a man’s carelessness in looking after his own safety. He is guilty if he ought reasonably to have foreseen that, if he did not act with reasonable prudence, he might suffer injury.
- “The question is not what was the cause of the accident. It is rather what was the cause of the damage. In most accidents on the road the bad driving, which causes the accident, also causes the ensuing damage. But in seat belt cases the cause of the accident is one thing. The cause of the damage is another. The accident is caused by the bad driving. The damage is caused in part by the bad driving of D, and in part by the failure of C to wear a seatbelt. If C 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.” [292G].
- It shows quite plainly that everyone in the front seats of a car should wear a seat belt for every journey regardless of circumstances.
- In determining responsibility, the law takes no notice of the views of the individual. It requires everyone to exercise all such precautions as a man of ordinary prudence would observe.
- I cannot accept the view that contributory negligence from not wearing a seatbelt only emerges in high-risk scenarios. A risk often happens suddenly and when least anticipated. It is easy to forget a seatbelt when only done occasionally. Done regularly, it becomes automatic. A wise man should always wear a seatbelt.
- The case for wearing seat belts is so strong that the law can admit forgetfulness as an excuse. To bring home the importance of wearing seat belts, the law should say that a person who fails to wear it must share some responsibility.