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The recent decision in the Court of Appeal case of Williams v Estate of Dayne Joshua Williams 2013 has confirmed that parents who fail to secure their children in appropriate child seats can be found to be contributory negligent for any injuries suffered by their child in a road traffic accident.

In this particular claim the parent was bringing a personal injury claim on her child’s behalf against the driver that was responsible for the accident. There was no question that the parent had any fault in relation to the accident and her driving was found to be “faultless”. However, the argument was that she could have prevented the seriousness of her daughter’s injuries by using the correct child restraint in the vehicle.

The parent had seated her child on a simple booster seat with an adult seat belt rather than a child harness.

The guidelines for the booster seat were that any child using the seat had to be between 4 and 10 years old, weigh between 15-35kg and be 101 and 145cm in height.

The child in this matter was 3 years and 2 months old, 93cm in height and 15kg in weight.

The parent was held to have made a reasonable choice in placing the child in the booster seat as she had treated the guidelines as guidelines only. However, “individual judgement, however understandable, and however well-motivated, cannot override the requirements for use of a child safety seat”.

The Court looked at The Motor Vehicles (Wearing of Seat Belts) Regulations 2006. These require children between the ages of 3 and 11 years of age, but less than 135cm, to be secured with a child restraint appropriate for their height and weight in the rear of motor vehicles.

Based on the guidelines for the child booster seat used, it was found that the child had been prematurely graduated from a harness seat to a booster seat. For this reason the Defendant was successful in his argument. The parent was found to have partly contributed to the child’s injuries, despite her having no fault in the road traffic accident.

This decision confirms the principles in the case of Froom v Butcher where we are told that a person who does not wear a seat belt and is injured in an accident can be found to be up to 25% contributory negligent for their own injuries.

The majority of child restraints and booster seats will come with guidance as to the appropriate age, height and weight for the particular seat. Parents should ensure that they read these guidelines very carefully before making the decision to use the seat for their child. All options should be considered before a choice is made.

This case brings to light the very serious consequences that selecting an inappropriate child seat can bring. First and foremost is the fact that if the incorrect seat is used then the child can suffer injuries of a more serious nature than if the correct seat been selected. What would then be a double blow to the parent is the fact that they could be held to be partly responsible for the injuries suffered when bringing any claim for damages arising out of a personal injury on the child’s behalf.