Be Careful that Seat-Belt Is Suitable

Recent Changes in the Law: by Matthew Molloy of Berwick Solicitors Galway.

ACCIDENTS: Be Careful that Seat-Belt Is Suitable

If I am involved in an accident in which I have failed to wear a seat-belt, will the amount of my compensation for personal injury be reduced? The Answer is ,generally, “yes”. However, you can defend against such if the seat belt would not have helped to reduce injury.

Frequently, a Court will be easily persuaded that a seat-belt will reduce injury; certainly for low-speed head- on crashes. Here, the Courts tended to reduce amounts by 10 and 20% but nowadays this can be much higher. In a recent case (Rogan –V- Walsh 2004 High Court), the Judge reduced the amout of compensation for shoulder injury by 50%

as a seat-belt would have reduced this injury ; he did not reduce compensation for knee and elbow injuries as the wearing of a seat-belt would not have reduced these latter injuries.

High Speed Accident:

In a recent interesting case (McNeilis case, High Court 2006) the three claimants were young; aged 8, 12 and 14 respectively. Their mother was the driver of the car and there were, in total, five children in the rear seat of the car (only three claiming compensation in the present case); none of the five wore seat-belts. A violent accident ensued.

Would seat-belt help?

Side-on impact:

Four occupants of the other car involved in the accident were killed, even though all four were wearing seat-belts. This car was impacted side-on and it is the better engineering view that seat-belts do not assist for side-on impacts.

High Speed Impact:

The view of the experts would appear to be that the seat-belts will help to reduce injury in low impact head-on collisions. However, there are different views among engineers as to whether seat-belts assist in reducing injuries where the cars have been travelling very fast at the time of the impact (in excess of 40mph) and where there is head- on impact. In the case we are discussing, the teenage children suffered severe injuries, including broken legs, hips (requiring multiple replacement hips into the future) and permanent shortening of one leg, scars on legs and acute psychological trauma. However, the Judge was not convinced that lesser injuries would have been caused if the youths had been wearing seat-belts.

 

Seat-belts for Children: Make sure they fit. Also “Lap Seat-belts”:

There were three seat-belts provided in the rear of the above car; two three-point seat belts (covers across shoulder as well as across pelvis) and one lap-belt – (no strap across chest but simply across pelvis/waist). The High Court Judge stated that he was concerned that seat-belts might not fit the wearer/user; he cited case of younger person where the belt of a three point belt might, instead of staying at the pelvis, ride up to the abdomen. Also, the diagonal strap across the chest could catch the neck. Both these eventualities could cause very serious injury and arise because the belts do not suit the size of the users.

Wearing a lap-belt can cause very severe injury. In the present case, the Judge was of the view that such a lap belt could cause catastrophic injuries.

SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION:

The Law states that , as a general rule, seat-belts do reduce injuries and so should be worn. However, seat-belts do not reduce injuries for certain collisions; for example , high- speed impacts. In the present case, the Judge decided that the wearing of the seat-belts would not have reduced the injuries (and so did not reduce compensation). Also, in this case, expert views were cited as saying that seat-belts do not help to reduce injuries for side-on impacts.

The Judge also expressed serious concern about seat-belts not fitting the user; you need to be very careful here; especially for children, as ill-fitting belt can cause acute injury. Furthermore, avoid lap seat-belts.

 

Author:

Matt Molloy of Berwick Solicitors, 16 Eyre square, Galway is heavily involved in representing victims of accidents and has been engaged in this work for over 20 years. Feel free to contact him at 091 567545 or MatthewMolloy@berwick.ie.