Froom v Butcher: CA 21 Jul 1975

The court asked what reduction if any should be made to a plaintiff’s damages where injuries were caused not only by the defendant’s negligent driving but also by the failure of the plaintiff to wear a seat belt. It had been submitted that, since the defendant was not responsible for the failure of the plaintiff to wear a seat belt, the question should be looked at purely as a matter of causation not as a matter of contributory negligence.
Held: The defendant’s appeal was allowed.
Lord Denning MR said: ‘The question is not what was the cause of the accident. It is rather what was the cause of the damage . . The damage is caused in part by the bad driving of the defendant, and in part by the failure of the plaintiff to wear a seat belt. If the plaintiff was to blame in not wearing a seat belt, the damage is in part the result of his own fault. He must bear some share in the responsibility for the damage: and his damages fall to be reduced to such extent as the court thinks just and equitable.’ and ‘Negligence depends on a breach of duty, whereas contributory negligence does not. Negligence is a man’s carelessness in breach of duty to others. Contributory negligence is a man’s carelessness in looking after his own safety. He is guilty of contributory negligence if he ought reasonably to have foreseen that if he did not act as a reasonable prudent man he might be hurt himself.’
Lord Denning MR continued: ‘It is compulsory for every motorcar to be fitted with seatbelts for the front seats . . Seeing that it is compulsory to fit seatbelts, Parliament must have thought it sensible to wear them. But it did not make it compulsory for anyone to wear a seatbelt. Everyone is free to wear it or not as he pleases. Free in this sense, that if he does not wear it he is free from any penalty by the magistrates. Free in the sense that everyone is free to run his head against a brick wall, if he pleases. He can do it if he likes without being punished by the law. But it is not a sensible thing to do. If he does it, it is his own fault; and he has only himself to thank for the consequences.
Much material has been put before us about the value of wearing a seatbelt. It shows quite plainly that everyone in the front seats of a car should wear a seatbelt. Not only on long trips, but also on short ones. Not only in the town, but also in the country. Not only when there is fog, but also when it is clear. Not only by fast drivers, but also by slow ones. Not only on motorways, but also on side roads . . the provision of the Highway Code which contains this advice’; Fit seat belts in your car and make sure they are always used’. This advice has been in the Highway Code since 1968, and should have been known to the plaintiff at the time of his accident in November 1972.’
and ‘The governments view is also plain. During the years 1972 to 1974 they spent 2.5 million pounds in advertisements telling people to wear seatbelts. Very recently a Bill was introduced into Parliament seeking to make it compulsory. In this respect England is following the example of Australia where it has been compulsory for the last three or four years. The Bill here has been delayed. And so it will not be compulsory yet a while. But, meanwhile, I think the judges should say plainly that it is the sensible practice for all drivers and passengers in front seats to wear seat belt whenever and wherever going by car. It is a wise precaution which everyone should take.’ and ‘In determining responsibility, the law eliminates the personal equation. It takes no notice of the views of the particular individual or of others like him. It requires everyone to exercise all such precautions as a man of ordinary prudence would observe.’ And ‘Whenever there is an accident, the negligent driver must bear by far the greatest share of responsibility. It was his negligence which caused the accident. It also was a prime cause of the whole of the damage. But in so far as the damage might have been avoided or lessened by wearing a seatbelt, the injured person must bear some share. But how much should this be? Is it proper to inquire whether the driver was grossly negligent or only slightly negligent? Or whether the failure to wear a seatbelt was entirely inexcusable or almost forgivable? . . But we live in a practical world. In most of these cases, the liability of the driver is admitted, the failure to wear a seatbelt is admitted, and the only question is: what damages should be payable? This question should not be prolonged by an expensive enquiry into the degree of blameworthiness on either side, which would be hotly disputed. Suffice it to assess a share of responsibility which will be just and equitable in the great majority of cases.
Sometimes the evidence will show that the failure made no difference. The damage would have been the same, even if a seatbelt had been worn. In such case the damages should not be reduced at all. At other times the evidence will show that the failure made all the difference. The damage would have been prevented altogether if a seat belt had been worn. In such cases I would suggest that the damages should be reduced by 25%. But often enough the evidence will only show that the failure made a considerable difference. Some injuries to the head, for instance, would have been a good deal less severe if a seatbelt had been worn, but there would still have been some injury to the head. In such case I would suggest that the damage is attributable to the failure to wear a seatbelt should be reduced by 15%.’

Lord Denning MR, Morritt LJ
[1976] QB 286, [1975] EWCA Civ 6, [1975] 3 All ER 520
Law Reform (Contributory Negligence) Act 1945 1(1)
England and Wales
CitedVaughan v Menlove 1837
The defendant had been advised of the probable consequences of allowing a stack of damp hay, which he had erected without proper ventilation, to remain in this condition. Subsequently the hay spontaneously ignited damaging the plaintiff’s house. At . .
CitedGlasgow Corporation v Muir HL 16-Apr-1943
The House considered the proper test to define the standard of care that must be adopted by the reasonable man in a claim for negligence.
Held: Lord Clauson said that the test is whether the person owing the duty of care ‘had in contemplation . .
Appeal fromFroom v Butcher 24-Jun-1974
The plaintiff was a front seat passenger injured in a car crash. The defendant sought to have the damages award reduced for the contributory negligence of the plaintiff in not wearing a seat belt.
Held: There was considerable disagreement . .

Cited by:
CitedJones (A Minor) v Wilkins (Wynn and Another, Third Parties) CA 6-Feb-2001
Where a child had not been properly restrained by a seat belt, the damages should be reduced but not by a great percentage. Here, although the child was partially restrained by sharing her mother’s lap belt, in fact this had made the injuries worse. . .
CitedPlatform Home Loans Ltd v Oyston Shipways Ltd and others HL 18-Feb-1999
The plaintiffs had lent about 1 million pounds on the security of property negligently valued at 1.5 million pounds. The property was sold for much less than that and the plaintiffs suffered a loss of 680,000 pounds. The judge found that the . .
CitedParkinson v Dyfed Powys Police CA 10-Jun-2004
. .
ConsideredCapps v Miller CA 30-Nov-1988
The plaintiff was injured riding with the defendant on a motor-cycle. The defendant drove negligently, and crashed. The plaintiff’s crash hemet came off and he sustained severe head injuries. He had not fastened it. The defendant appealed an . .
CitedOwens v Brimmell 1977
Both the driver and his passenger had drunk about eight to nine pints of beer, and on their way home the driver lost control of his car so that it collided with a lamppost. The passenger sued in negligence. The driver said the passenger was . .
CitedJohn James William Booth v Simon White CA 18-Nov-2003
The claimant sought damages after being injured in a car driven by the defendant. The defendant now appealed an award at 1005, saying that the plaintiff had known that he had been drinking. The defendant was known to be a heavy drinker, and he said . .
CitedBadger v The Ministry of Defence QBD 16-Dec-2005
The widow of the deceased sought damages after his exposure to asbestos whilst working for the defendant. He had contracted lung cancer. The defendant argued that the deceased had continued to smoke knowing of the risks, and that he had made a . .
CitedSt George v The Home Office CA 8-Oct-2008
The claimant was taken into prison. He was known to be subject to epilepsy, with high risks on withdrawal from drugs, but was allocated a high bunk. He had a seizure and fell, suffering head injuries. He sought damages in negligence. The defendant . .
CitedStanton v Collinson QBD 2-Mar-2009
The claimant was severely injured when a car driven by the defendant crashed. No-one was wearing a seat belt. The driver died. The driver’s estate argued that the claimant was contributorily negligent in not wearing a seat belt. The claimant said . .
CitedStanton v Collinson CA 24-Feb-2010
The defendant driver appealed against a refusal to reduce the claimant’s damages for contributory negligence. The claimant sat in the front seat and was severely injured in the accident, but had not been wearing a seat belt.
Held: ‘there is a . .
CitedGawler v Raettig (Leave) CA 3-Dec-2007
Application for leave to appeal. . .
CitedSmith v Finch QBD 22-Jan-2009
The claimant cyclist was severely injured in an accident when hit by a motorcyclist, the defendant. He was not wearing a cycle helmet, and the injuries were to his head. He was slowing down to turn right, and was hit a heavy glancing blow by the . .
CitedPhethean-Hubble v Coles QBD 24-Feb-2011
The claimant had been very severely injured when knocked from his cycle by the defendant’s car. He had come out onto the roadway at night but without cycle lights, and into the path of the car. The claimant was not wearing a helmet.
Held: . .
CitedReynolds v Strutt and Parker LLP ChD 15-Jul-2011
The defendant had organised a team bonding day, including a cycling event. The claimant employee was severely injured falling from his cycle. He said that the defendant had been engligent in not providing cycling helmets. The circuit hosting company . .
CitedWilliams v Williams (The Estate of) CA 30-Apr-2013
A child aged three had been injured as a passenger in her mother’s car when it was hit by another negligently driven vehicle. The mother appealed against a finding that she was 25% contributorily negligent in that the child seat used had been . .

Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Negligence, Road Traffic, Damages, Personal Injury

Leading Case

Updated: 01 November 2021; Ref: scu.182180