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Injured in an accident whilst not wearing a seatbelt? You can still claim

by Access Legal

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It's drummed into us from the beginning of our driving experience that the first thing we do when we get into a car is put on our seatbelt.

The law on wearing seatbelts is clear: a driver of a vehicle must wear a seatbelt, and the driver is responsible for ensuring all occupants of his/her vehicle under the age of 14 are wearing them.

Unfortunately, some people still don't put them on.

There are exemptions, though. Some people are exempt on medical grounds, whilst taxi drivers and other private hire vehicle drivers aren't required to wear seatbelts whilst their vehicles are being used for public hire.

Remarkably, some refuse to belt up because it's not 'cool', while others claim it's actually more dangerous to wear one.

Last week, former England footballer Paul Gascoigne wasn't wearing a seatbelt when a passenger in a car whose driver was under the influence of alcohol, and which crashed.

Gascoigne's injuries were reported to have been massive swelling of the face, two black eyes, a punctured lung and serious cuts and bruises. Instinctively one might consider that had Gascoigne been wearing his seatbelt his injuries may not have been so severe. It's certainly been documented in the media that the other two male passengers were not badly hurt.

When lawyers are instructed by a client injured in a road traffic accident that wasn't their fault, but who admits to having not worn a seatbelt, their first thoughts would be that their client's claim for damages may be reduced.

In Froom v Butcher [1976], it was held on appeal that a person failing to wear a seatbelt should accept some responsibility for their injuries if they could have been prevented or lessened by wearing one. This case also gives some insight into the responsible 'share' or 'contribution' that can be applied to a claimant's case.

If a claimant's injuries could have been prevented altogether by wearing a seatbelt, the claimant's damages claim will be reduced by 25%.

However, if medical evidence obtained on behalf of the client confirms that the injuries would have been a great deal less by wearing a seatbelt, damages should be reduced by 15%. In Froom v Butcher this was upheld as still being good law. In Stanton v Collinson [2010], however, damages were reduced by 20%, as a 15% reduction was not considered high enough.

In a recent case dealt with by Access Legal from Shoosmiths specialist personal injury lawyer Julie Walton, the driver and front seat passenger claimed 100% of their compensation even though they were not wearing seatbelts at the time of the accident.

The defence initially argued that the claimants' cases should each be subject to 15% contributory negligence.

However, it was revealed that the claimants – both traffic management workers – had just finished clearing signs from a road, when within seconds of getting into their van it was hit in the rear by the other party. They had no chance to put on seatbelts and their van was stationary. Both received 100% of their compensation.

Whilst it is always prudent to wear a seatbelt, prospective claimants should not let the fact they weren't wearing one deter them from making a personal injury claim if they weren't responsible for the accident.

As always, each case will be considered on its own merits.

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