Contributory negligence in road traffic accidents
Understanding Contributory Negligence in Personal Injury Claims
In personal injury law, understanding the concept of contributory negligence is crucial.
Governed by the Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945, Section 1(1), this legal principle addresses situations where damage is incurred due to a combination of the claimant’s and another party’s faults.
Key Principles of Contributory Negligence:
Contributory negligence is not a defence but rather an aspect of determining compensation (quantum).
The defender bears the burden of proving the claimant’s fault.
Examples of Contributory Negligence in Road Traffic Accidents:
If a claimant was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident this can result in them being found contributorily negligent.
In Froom v Butcher , the claimant suffered from injuries to the head, chest and a broken finger as a result of a crash that was entirely the fault of the defender. Despite this, the courts reduced his damages by 20% since he was not wearing a seatbelt.
The reasoning of Lord Denning in this case is still relied upon today. He stated that if failure to wear a seatbelt did not contribute to the injuries sustained then no deduction to damages should be made. He continued that if damages could have been prevented all together by wearing a seatbelt, then a reduction of 25% should be made. Finally, should some injury, but not all, have been prevented by a seatbelt then a reduction of 15% should be made.
In Patience v Andrews  the courts decided that if it is proven that the lack of a seatbelt has contributed to an injury there will be a reduction to damages, even if it is impossible to tell the extent to which a seatbelt would have prevented injury.
2. Motorcyclists and Cyclists without Helmets:
The law in the UK requires that one wears a helmet while on a motorbike. This, however, is not the case for bicycles. Despite this, if someone is involved in an accident while on a motorbike or a bicycle, the lack of a helmet can make one contributorily negligent.
In Reynolds v Strutt and Parker LLP a cyclist in a cycling competition suffered a head injury after coming off their bike. His damages were reduced by two thirds because he was cycling in a dangerous manner and was not wearing a helmet.
The decision In Capps v Millar  showed that not fastening one’s helmet properly can result in a deduction of damages. In this case, the claimant collided with a drunk driver who was driving negligently. Despite wearing a helmet, his damages were reduced by 10% because it was not fastened properly.
Defenders must prove that the presence of a helmet would have made a difference to the injuries sustained. In Smith v Finch , a cyclist was knocked off their bike by a motorcyclist. The claimant was not wearing a helmet. The court found that a standard helmet would be able to protect a person from impacts that are 12mph and below. The claimant, despite suffering a head injury while helmetless, did not have his damages reduced as he was travelling over 12 mph.
3. Drunk Drivers:
Passengers in a vehicle driven by a drunk driver may be considered contributorily negligent. Campbell v Advantage  is an example where damages were reduced by 20%.
Passengers in a vehicle driven by a drunk driver can also be considered to be contributorily negligent.
In the recent case of Campbell v Advantage , a group of three men who had been out consuming alcohol. After leaving a nightclub, the three men got in a vehicle to drive home. The vehicle was later involved in a collision. The claimant was a passenger in this vehicle. It was found that the claimant was contributorily negligent for his injuries due to the risks involved. The claimant here had his settlement reduced by 20%. The court ruled that even though he was drunk himself, this did not remove the duty of care he owed himself. This supported the decision in Owens vs Brimmel  in which it was ruled that the plaintiff can be guilty of contributory negligence for their failure to for see the possibility that the driver’s ability to drive might be affected by alcohol. The damages in this case were reduced by 20%.
Contributory negligence significantly impacts the final settlement amount for claimants. Pursuers’ solicitors must be well-versed in the facts, ready to defend against contributory negligence allegations, and prove that the claimant’s actions wouldn’t have affected the injuries.
In conclusion, navigating contributory negligence is essential in personal injury claims, emphasising the need for a thorough understanding of the legal principles and effective defense strategies to secure fair compensation for claimants.
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Written by Pierre Gillespie