Froom v Butcher – Case Summary

Froom v Butcher

Court of Appeal

Citations: [1976] QB 286; [1975] 3 WLR 379; [1975] 3 All ER 520; [1975] 2 Lloyd’s Rep 478; [1975] RTR 518; (1975) 119 SJ 613; [1975] CLY 2295.


The claimant was injured in a car accident caused by the defendant’s negligent driving. The claimant broke a finger, and also suffered chest and head injuries. At the time of the accident, the claimant was not wearing a seat belt. If they had been wearing a seat belt, they would not have suffered chest and head injuries. The defendant argued that the claimant’s damages should be reduced for contributory negligence. The claimant personally believed he was safer not wearing one. The trial judge rejected contributory negligence, stating that it would be an unreasonable interference with people’s freedom. The defendant appealed.

  1. Is failing to wear a seat-belt lack of care for the purposes of contributory negligence?
  2. If so, what reduction should be made?

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. They made a 20% reduction to the claimant’s damages.

This Case is Authority For…

Contributory negligence applies whenever a reasonable person would foresee that he might be hurt by a particular course of action. It does not matter that the contributory negligence did not cause the underlying accident itself. What is relevant is what caused the injury or the extent of the injury.

A reasonable person would realise that they may be hurt if they do not wear a seat belt while in a moving vehicle. It is irrelevant that the claimant subjectively believes they will be safer if they do not wear a seat belt.

Where the failure to wear a seat belt would have avoided the injury, the starting point for reductions should be 25%. Where it merely would have made the injuries less severe, the starting point is 15%. If wearing the seat belt would make no difference, there should be no reduction.