Willams v Williams [30.04.13]
 
Court of Appeal upholds decision that mother must contribute 25 per cent to claim; booster seat was used for three year old when child seat was available.

Implications

  • This decision provides confirmation that the principles in Froom v Butcher are still relevant and apply to use of child car seats as well as adult seat belts. Lady Justice Black highlighted the relevance of Froom to this particular case. It is likely that this reasoning will apply equally to similar cases but, of course, each case must be considered on its own merits.
  • The warnings given by manufacturers were a key factor in this case. The judgement of the Claimant’s mother, although well meant, was not determinative.
  • The Claimant will still get 100 per cent compensation. However, 25 per cent will come from her mother’s insurers.

Background

Our review of the High Court decision sets out the background to this case.

In summary, the claim involved an RTA for which liability was admitted. The Claimant’s mother, Ms Williams, was in no way to blame for the accident. However, the issue was the extent to which she should contribute to the claim. She had used a booster seat for the three year old Claimant, Emma, when a five-point harness child seat was available.

At first instance, Mr Justice Blair held that Ms Williams should contribute 25 per cent to the claim on the basis that she had acted negligently by placing Emma on the booster seat, which was unsuitable for a child of her age and height. Ms Williams appealed.

Decision

Black LJ dismissed the appeal:

  • Ms Williams was an excellent and caring mother whose daughter’s safety was of paramount importance to her. There were no doubt other similarly caring parents who would have done as she did. However, that did not determine the issue of liability or the amount of contribution.
  • Blair J was entitled to find that the instructions could not have been more explicit. It was difficult to see how a different judgment as to the appropriateness of the booster seat could be substituted.
  • The instructions contained clear and repeated warnings that failure to use the booster seat as instructed could result in serious injury or death. It was therefore reasonably foreseeable that Emma would be injured.
  • Blair J directed himself properly as to the issue he had to decide, which revolved around this particular child in this particular car in which there were two alternative child seats available. He was right to reject an enquiry into what would have happened to a hypothetical child. 
  • The appropriate reduction was 25 per cent. Froom v Butcher had been endorsed by Stanton v Collinson [2010]. In addition, the Court of Appeal will only interfere with an apportionment of liability where it is clearly wrong or there has been an error in principle or a mistake of fact.