Update on contributory negligence in road traffic accidents

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During a recent judgment (Campbell v Advantage Insurance Company Ltd) at the High Court, it was concluded that the Claimant could not properly argue that he was too drunk to know that he was accepting a lift from a drunk driver. The judge also ruled that the fact that the Claimant was not wearing a seat belt was not contributory to additional injuries.

The case

In August 2016, Dean Brown (the Defendant) and two friends had been out in Cheltenham. Dean was over double the legal limit of alcohol and had significant levels of cannabis in his system when he drove from Cheltenham towards Gloucester that night.

The car collided with a lorry and Dean died at the scene as a result of multiple severe injuries, including a major head injury. His front seat passenger (the Claimant) also sustained serious injuries in the crash.

The Claimant’s legal representative argued that the Claimant was too intoxicated to realise the potential danger ahead of him, and further, was too drunk to decide for himself to wear a seat belt.

The Defendant alleged the Claimant was responsible for his own actions and entered the vehicle of his own free will, knowing the Defendant’s state of mind. He also alleged that the Claimant’s failure to wear a seat belt was causative of his injuries and/or made his injuries worse, and should therefore be held partially responsible for his failure to wear a seat belt.

The judgment

The judge stated that the Claimant must have known how much alcohol the Defendant had drunk before setting off and that he had capacity to make a decision as to whether to enter the car and be driven by him. On this basis, the Claimant was found to be partly responsible for being involved in the accident. His compensation was therefore reduced by 20% due to ‘contributory negligence’.

The seat belt issue was a non-starter in any event as it was ruled that, based on expert analysis and evidence, even if the Claimant had been wearing a seat belt, it would not have made a considerable difference to the severity of the injuries sustained. Accordingly, no deduction was made for the fact that the Claimant was not wearing a seat belt as it was not causative of the accident, or contributed to the Claimant’s injuries.

What is contributory negligence?

If you suffer an injury where someone else is to blame, but you were also partly at fault, this is called ‘contributory negligence’. For example, you wore inappropriate footwear in wintry weather, or you were distracted and tripped over a defect in the pavement, but the defect was so obvious it was there to be seen.

Contributory negligence can reduce the amount of compensation you can receive when claiming for personal injury.

What is the law on wearing a seat belt?

Under the Highway Code, a driver may have a duty to ask their passenger to wear a seat belt. However, they are not responsible for enforcing it on their adult (over 14 years old) passengers.

Can I start a personal injury claim if I wasn’t wearing a seat belt?

Although you are legally required to wear a seat belt in the UK, you may still be able to claim compensation for damages if you’ve been injured in a collision while you were not wearing one.

Further information

Our personal injury solicitors have proven expertise in claiming compensation for those injured in road traffic accidents. We offer a no win, no fee consultation with one of our specialist personal injury lawyers to talk through your options and to discuss how best to fund your claim.

Call us now on 0117 325 2929 or fill out our online enquiry form to get started.


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