Mr. Froom was driving with his wife and daughter, none of whom were wearing seatbelts. They were on the right side of the road when Butcher pulled out to pass and struck them head on. The daughter was not injured, and Mrs. Froom's injuries would have occurred with or without the seatbelt. Mr. Froom injured his head and chest – however they would not have been as badly injured if he had his seatbelt on. He also broke his finger and still would have done so with the seatbelt on. Seatbelts were not legally required at the time. The respondents received full compensation at trial and Butcher appealed.
- Does not wearing a seatbelt amount to contributory negligence?
Appeal allowed, damages reduced by £100.
Lord Denning, writing for the court, goes through all of the past case law and suggestions about why people should not be forced to wear seatbelts and shows why they are all clearly wrong. Although it is not the law to wear a seatbelt in England at this time, he says that any reasonable person would do it and if you choose not to you are taking that risk into your own hands. He does not pretend that the negligence of the other driver causing the accident is not still the main source of negligence, but if not wearing a seatbelt contributed to the injuries (not the accident) then the plaintiff must bear some of the responsibility and share the damages.
Denning suggests a reduction of 25% in cases where the injuries would not have occurred at all if a seatbelt had been worn, and 15% when the injuries would have been reduced by a seatbelt. In this case, it is only Mr. Froom's injuries that would have been reduced if he had been wearing a seatbelt. He states that Mr. Froom must share the responsibility of these injuries. He would have suffered less serious injuries to his head and chest if he had a seatbelt on, and therefore the damages for those should be reduced by 15%. His finger would have been broken anyway, so no discount is necessary. All of the parties agree on an overall reduction in damages of 10% as a result of his negligence in not wearing his seatbelt.
Not wearing a seatbelt amounts to contributory negligence even if you are not required by the law to wear them (the relevant question is not whether the plaintiff's actions caused the accident, but whether they helped to cause the damages).