Hughes (a child) -v- Williams deceased and Williams April 25th 2012
First and foremost, please note that the two ‘Williams’ in this case are unrelated. The 25% contributory negligence contribution will be funded by the second Defendants Insurers.
Some certainty and reassurance to Insurers, Reinsurers and lawyers, this case maintaining and underpinning the principles contained in leading case law Froom -v- Butcher (1976), relating to contributory negligence deductions made when considering the failure of a Claimant to wear a seatbelt or appropriate restraint. Pivotal to this case, and the reason for making any deduction at all, is down to whether the injuries sustained could have been lessened or indeed prevented completely should the correct restraint have been used.
This particular case examined the mothers duty towards her child to place the three-year-old in an appropriate and available child car seat and whether her decision to place the child on a booster seat instead of the available 5-point harness was negligent. As detailed above, the overriding issue was whether this decision, combined with the tragic sequence of events and subsequent severe injuries sustained would have been lessened or prevented if the 5-point harness had been used.
It was found, after considering unanimous expert evidence that the booster seat was inappropriate and that the 5-point harness was appropriate, given the child’s age, height and weight, and that her injuries would have been largely avoided or been of slight severity if the 5-point harness had been used.
Whilst the First Defendant (deceased) was solely responsible for the accident , having lost control of his vehicle, swerving and colliding with the car driven by the Second Defendant, the key issue was to consider the cause, or causes of the injuries.
A sensitive case to deal with, particularly given the issues of recoverability in relation to gratuitous care by the mother which she had been required to provide to the Claimant given her severe injuries. The Defendant Insurer gave an undertaking that a finding would not deprive the Claimant and her mother of compensation payable in respect of past and future care provided by the mother.
As a handler, this case highlights the need for early and appropriate intensive investigation into liability and causation issues and the need to obtain eminent robust expert evidence to narrow the issues when preparing for a difficult, emotive and contentious case such as this.