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Parents, be warned! Emma Hughes (a Child) v Estate of Williams Deceased [2012] 1078 (QB)

In a road traffic accident, what is the effect on liability of placing your child into a child car seat for which s/he does not meet the guidelines set by the manufacturer?

If it is established that the particular seat should not have been used, and that the use of a suitable alternative seat would have largely avoided the injury to the child, a parent could be held up to 25% liable, as recently held in Emma Hughes (a Child) v Estate of Williams Deceased [2012] EWHC 1078 (QB).

Emma, aged 3 years and 2 months, and with a height of 93cm, fell short of the age and height specification for a booster seat (4 to 10 years, 101cm to 145cm) and barely made the weight specification. Her mother had placed her into this over a "Mamas and Papas" child seat also in the car for which Emma did meet the height/weight/age requirements, as Emma was going through a "transition stage". The Owner's manual stated: "FAILURE TO PROPERLY USE THIS CAR SEAT INCREASES THE RISK OF SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH IN A SUDDEN STOP OR CRASH". To use this booster seat, your child MUST meet ALL of the following requirements" and Emma's mother accepted that she had read this. The defendant driver lost control of his car and swerved into the path of the mother's car causing multiple injuries to Emma. It was accepted that there was nothing that the mother could have done to avoid a collision.

In determining that a contribution of 25% from Emma′s mother was held to be just, the following was relevant: A duty of care is owed by a parent to her (or his child) to take reasonable steps to ensure that the child is secured with an appropriate seat restraint when travelling in a car. Except where there has been a clear failure, whether there has been a breach is a fact sensitive issue. In this case, the booster seat should not have been used at all as Emma did not meet the requirements, therefore there had been a breach of duty. The judge found that had Emma been seated in the Mamas and Papas seat, her injuries would have largely been avoided.

/ 1st Jun 2012


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