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Owens v Brimmell

[1977] QB 859; [1977] 2 WLR 943;

[1976] 3 All ER 765; [1977] RTR 82;

NEGLIGENCE, CONTRIBUTORY NEGLIGENCE, DRINK DRIVING,

ROAD TRAFFIC ACCIDENT, FAILURE TO WEAR A SEATBELT, FORESEEABILITY

Facts

The plaintiff and the defendant were friends and the defendant often gave a lift to the plaintiff. One night, they bought went out with the car, visited several public houses and finally, a club. The defendant estimated that they had both drunk 8 to 9 pints of beer. At 2 am, the defendant was driving the plaintiff home, lost control of the car and crashed into a lamp post. The plaintiff was not wearing a seat belt. He received a heavy blow on the face either from hitting the lamp post when he was partially thrown from the car, or from facia board of the car while sitting the passenger seat. The plaintiff suffered very serious injuries, including intellect impairment. The defendant admitted that he was guilty of negligence in the plaintiff’s action for damages, but alleged that the plaintiff was guilty of contributory negligence for his failure to wear a seat belt and recklessness as to the possibility that the defendant’s ability to drive was impaired by alcohol.

Issues

(1) Is the plaintiff guilty of contributory negligence for his failure to wear a seat belt?

(2) Is the plaintiff guilty of contributory negligence for his failure to foresee the possibility that the driver’s ability to drive was impaired by alcohol.

Held

(1) Applying Froom v Butcher [1976] 1 QB 286, the plaintiff is not guilty of contributory negligence for his failure to wear a seat belt as the defendant did not prove that the plaintiff’s injuries would have been less serious had he worn a seat belt.

(2) The plaintiff is guilty of contributory negligence for his failure to foresee the possibility that the driver’s ability to drive was impaired by alcohol as a person is guilty of contributory negligence if he knew that the driver had consumed so much alcohol as to impair his ability to drive safely or knowing that he would be given a lift in the car, he accompanied the driver on a bout of drinking.

Therefore, the amount of damages was reduced by 20 per cent.


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