Child belts and car drivers’ responsibility towards child passengers
The recent judgment handed down by the High Court in Northern Ireland in ES (A Minor by Rachel Ann Savage Her Mother & Next Friend) (Plaintiff) v (1) Emma Savage (2) Darren Thomas (3) Wd Irwin & Sons Ltd (Defendants) & Hugh Savage (Third Party) once again highlights the legal duties on drivers carrying child passengers. In this case the claimant, who was two years old at the time suffered significant spinal and abdominal injuries whilst a rear, nearside passenger in her aunt’s car when it was involved in a road traffic collision with another vehicle.
Whilst there was no doubt that as a passenger, the claimant would recover compensation for the injuries she sustained against her aunt and/or the driver and the owner of the second vehicle, and indeed, proceedings were issued against all three, there was an issue as whether her injuries would have (a) occurred or (b) been as severe had she been properly restrained in a suitable booster seat.
The claimant had been placed in a booster seat which later transpired to be unsuitable for a child of her size and weight. The first defendant, the aunt, brought a claim against the claimant’s father as a third party to the proceedings on the basis that he had “approved” the booster seat used as he had placed the claimant into her seat.
There was a factual dispute over the accident circumstances, though the court eventually accepted the aunt’s version of events and found the other driver responsible for collision. However, he did not accept that the third party, the claimant’s father, was responsible for restraining the claimant in the car seat and found the aunt negligent in that respect. This issue of causation and contribution towards the injuries resulting from this negligence was to be determined later. However, there can be no doubt that the injuries would not have been so severe had the correct type of seat been used.
Drivers carrying child passengers under the age of 14 in their vehicles (unless an exemption applies) are under a legal duty to ensure they are in a correct car seat or wearing a seat belt or risk being fined up to £500. The Highway Code provides clear guidance on the type of seats/the way seat belts should be used having regard to the child’s age, height and weight.
It is not uncommon for drivers to be brought into legal proceedings for compensation and held partially responsible for injuries sustained by child passengers for their failure to ensure that the child was properly restrained in car seats/by seatbelts even if they are not liable for the actual accident. In the case of adult claimants of course, they can often find themselves with a reduction of damages if the medical evidence suggests that failure to wear a seatbelt caused or contributed to the severity of their injuries.