Being involved in a road traffic accident can be a traumatic, stressful, and painful experience. A personal injury claim can ensure that you recover compensation for the injuries you’ve sustained in a car accident. But can you make a claim if you weren’t wearing your seat belt?
The short answer is “yes”. Many people mistakenly believe that they’re not entitled to any compensation if they weren’t, but even under these circumstances, you may still be entitled to make a personal injury claim. However, the amount of compensation you receive may be reduced.
Seat Belt laws in the UK and driver’s responsibility
In the UK, it’s been a legal requirement for all drivers to wear their seat belts since 1983. All drivers and passengers must wear a seat belt if the vehicle has them, with very few exceptions.
- All drivers, front and rear seat passengers must wear a seat belt, if one is available; and
- All children under 14 years old or shorter than 135cm must wear a seat belt or be suitably restrained in an approved baby, car or booster seat, or booster cushion. It is the drivers’ responsibility to ensure this is the case.
Failure to comply with this law can result in a fine of up to £500. The driver of the vehicle may be prosecuted if they fail to ensure children under 12 years old are restrained in the appropriate child seat for their height, age, and weight, and that the car seat has been fitted according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Who is exempt from wearing a seatbelt?
There are very few circumstances where you don’t need to wear a seat belt. Some examples include:
- If you’re reversing or teaching a learner driver to reverse and driving a non-commercial vehicle;
- You hold a medical exemption certificate;
- You’re making deliveries or collections in a goods vehicle and are travelling less than 50m;
- You’re a licensed taxi driver “plying for hire” or carrying passengers;
- You’re a passenger on a bus that’s not fitted with seat belts or standing up; or
- You’re travelling in an emergency vehicle.
There are additional specialist exemptions, which are set out in UK legislation.
If you were injured in a road traffic accident that was caused by someone else’s negligence, then you may be entitled to make a personal injury claim. However, if you were partly to blame for the accident or for making your injuries worse than they may have been otherwise, then this is called “contributory negligence”. In simple terms, contributory negligence is where your own negligence contributed in some way to your injuries.
Where you’re involved in an accident and were not wearing a seat belt, then the Defendant may argue that not wearing your seat belt caused your injuries to be more severe than if you had been wearing a seat belt. In this case, the Solicitors, and Insurers, or even the Courts, will need to establish liability for the accident and any contributory negligence that you may be accountable for.
If the contributory negligence defence is successful, then the actual amount of compensation you receive for the claim may be reduced.
Examples of contributory negligence
Contributory negligence is where the Claimant (the individual making the claim) took an action that negatively impacted the severity of the injuries. Some examples include:
- If you were injured, or more badly injured, because you weren’t wearing your seat belt in a road traffic accident;
- If you were a pedestrian crossing the road, but failed to wait for an approaching vehicle to pass;
- If you were cycling at night without the correct lights and were hit by a car; or
- If you were the passenger of a car but knew that the driver had been over the legal alcohol limit or had taken drugs.
In these circumstances, contributory negligence may be established in the case, which may affect the amount of compensation you ultimately receive.
How is liability established?
When you make a personal injury claim for a road traffic accident, there are typically two forms of liability that must be established. The Solicitors and Insurers will need to consider:
- Was the Defendant (e.g., the driver) liable for the accident due to their negligence?
- Was the Claimant partly liable for their injuries in some way, such as because they were not wearing their seat belt?
Common law in the UK requires that all drivers have a duty of care to drive carefully on the road. If a driver causes an accident because they have breached that duty, then the liability for the accident lies with the driver. However, the Claimant may still have partial liability for the injuries they sustained.
Liability may be settled between Solicitors and Insurers, but if an agreement cannot be reached, the claim may go to Court for a Judge to determine liability.
Is there a time limit?
Adults have up to three years from the date of the injury to make a personal injury claim. Typically, the clock starts ticking from the day you first learned of your injury. Often, this will be the date of the accident, but it could also be the date that your doctor gave you a diagnosis.
For children under 18 years old, they have until their 18th birthday to make a claim via their parents or guardians. If by the time they’re 18, they haven’t made a claim, then the individual could make a claim in their own right up until they are 21 years old.
How much can I claim?
The amount of compensation you may be entitled to will vary according to your specific circumstances.
General Damages refer to the amount you can claim for pain and suffering that has directly resulted from your injury. The amount awarded is based on the Judicial College Guidelines for the Assessment of General Damages in Personal Injury, which indicates the range of compensation valuation based on the type and severity of injury.
In addition, you may be able to claim for Special Damages, which includes damage to property or loss of earnings that have resulted from time off work due to injury. If you’ve incurred medical expenses from private medical treatment, such as physio or care costs, then you may also be able to make a claim for compensation to cover these costs.
In the 1975 landmark case, Froom vs Butcher, the Judge ruled that the Defendant caused the accident and was responsible for the Claimant’s injuries. However, the Judge also noted that the Claimant was not wearing his seat belt and had he been doing so, then his injuries would not have been as severe. In this case, the Judge ruled that the Claimant’s compensation be reduced by 25%.
Since this case and where contributory negligence is proven, compensation deductions have followed a general rule of thumb:
- If no, or virtually no, injuries would have been sustained if a seat belt had been worn, then 25% may be deducted;
- If the injuries would have been less severe if a seat belt had been worn, then 15% may be deducted; and
- If the injuries would have been exactly the same, or worse, if a seat belt had been worn, then the compensation should not be reduced.
While these general rules of thumb apply, the actual amount of compensation you may be entitled to will be calculated based on the specific, individual circumstances of your case. A Solicitor can help you to get the best outcome.
Making a personal injury claim can be daunting, but our expert team at Waldrons Solicitors has years of experience across a range of legal issues and can support you every step of the way. Whether you’re considering making a claim or would like more information, get in touch today to discuss your needs.
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Last reviewed on 11/07/23 by Joseph Norton who is a Director and Head of Compensation