Accident Claims News

Use of Proper Child Restraint Seats

Jun 28, 2013

In the recent case of Williams v Estate of Dayne Joshua Williams [2013] EWCA Civ 455, the Court of Appeal in England was asked to assess the duty of drivers to ensure that child passengers are properly secured in their vehicle.  The decision re-affirmed the duty to ensure that children are properly restrained, and that compensation following a road traffic accident will be reduced where restraints have not been properly used.


3 year old Emma was a rear seat passenger in a car being driven by her mother, when the car was struck by a car coming in the opposite direction.  The other driver had consumed alcohol and illegal drugs, and lost control of his vehicle. Due to the road traffic collision, Emma unfortunately sustained multiple injuries, including lower spinal injuries. Liability was admitted, and there were no averments of fault on the part of the driving of Emma’s mother.  What was in dispute however was whether Ms Williams had contributed to the extent of her daughter’s injury by the choice of child restraint seat used by her.


There were 2 different types of child restraint seats in the rear of the car - a Graco cushion style seat (or booster) and a Mamas & Papas seat with a 5 point harness.  Emma was situated in the former, and it was the defenders position that she was too young and too small to be in such a seat. It was accepted by all parties that there were specific warnings on the Graco booster seat, indicating that for the seat to be used, the child should meet “ALL” of the following requirements –

(1)   be approximately 4 to 10 years old;

(2)   weigh between 15-36kg; and

(3)   be between 101 and 145cm in height.

Emma was 3 years 2 months old, weighed 15 kg and was 93cm tall at the time of the accident.  Accordingly, while she met the weight restriction, she failed to meet the other 2 standard that were clearly stated in the manufacturer’s manual.


At first instance, Blair J found that the mother was partially at fault in respect of her choice of restraint, commenting in the judgement,

“Absent some special circumstances, it seems to me that an individual judgement, however understandable and however well motivated (as in the present case), cannot override the requirements that are stated for the use of a child safety seat … Premature graduation of a child from a harness seat to a booster seat or seat belt is a common problem, and one which plainly can have very serious consequences.  This makes it particularly important that the requirements stated for the used of the device are followed.”


The Court of Appeal upheld this decision.  It was felt that that the warnings need not be treated as determinative of the liability issue, but Ms Williams was not entitled simply to disregard the warnings provided.  In the lead judgement, Black LJ said that the issue was “whether it was negligent to put this particular child of her particular age and dimension on the booster cushion”.


The Court went on to assess the appropriate deduction to make by way of contributory fault.  The leading case is that of Froom v Butcher [1976] QB 286, where the court laid down the following rules:-

-          no reduction if the seat belt would have made no difference.

-          15% reduction if the seatbelt would have made a considerable difference.

-          25% reduction if the seatbelt would have made all the difference and the damage would have been prevented altogether.

The Court of Appeal felt that there was no evidence to support a departure from these rules.  As there was a suitable restraint available, namely the 5 point harness, it was an issue whether to use it.  Ms Williams had not been able to establish that the seatbelt would have made no difference, of even a “considerable” one.  25% contribution was held to be appropriate despite Ms Williams driving making no contribution to the road traffic accident.


Accordingly, parents need to take the greatest of care in ensuring that child passengers are appropriately restrained in the car, and do need to take heed of the warnings provided by the manufacturers.  The reduction in damages following this road traffic crash were significant given the extent of the injuries sustained by Emma.