Wrong child car seat contributes to girl's crash injuriesCourt rules her mother was partly responsible

02 May 2013

Checking the fit of child car seats

A mother was partly responsible for the injuries her daughter received in a car crash because she used the wrong type of car seat, according to the Court of Appeal.

Three year old Emma Hughes suffered severe injuries, including spinal cord damage and a ruptured liver, when a car driven by Dayne Williams collided with the one she was riding in on 19th August 2006. 

The girl was sitting on a backless booster seat, even though she did not meet the minimum height requirement for the seat stated in the product's instructions.

Visit our guide to the best child car seat for children to find out why young children shouldn't be in booster seats and why we don't recommend backless booster seats.

Using the wrong car seat is negligent

A trial in April 2012 found that her mother Louise Williams was partly responsible for her child's injuries because she placed her on a booster cushion, rather than the five-point harness seat that was also in the car. 

Although Dayne Williams caused the collision, his insurers claimed that Ms Williams should also contribute to paying damages awarded to her daughter, because it was negligent to place Emma on the booster cushion when a seat with harness was also in the car.

Although Emma, who weighed 15kg, was at the minimum weight limit for the booster seat seat, she was 8cm shorter than the minimum height stated in the instruction booklet and younger than the guideline age suitability of four years.

The judge, Mr Justice Blair, described Ms Williams as 'an excellent and caring mother' but summarised: 'the evidence establishes that the booster cushion should not have been used, that the child seat should have been used, and that if it had been, the injuries sustained in the accident would largely have been avoided'.

He ordered a contribution of 25% towards the damages from Ms Williams, which will be paid by her insurer.

Ms Williams appealed this decision, but it was upheld on 30th April 2013 by the Court of Appeal.

Find out more about the child car seat weight groups and what type of child car seat your child should be in.

The dangers of changing child car seats too soon

Booster seats are used to raise children up so that the adult diagonal seat belt will pass in the correct position across their pelvis, chest and shoulder. 

But a harness is more appropriate for children up to the weight of 18kg, because it spreads the force of a crash across a wider area of the body, providing better protection for their still undeveloped ribcage and internal organs. 

Ms Williams had both seats in the car because she thought that her daughter looked uncomfortable in the seat with a harness. 

Although she had read the instructions carefully, including the warnings about minimum weight and height, she said in her evidence that she 'regarded them as advice' and had used her own judgement to make her decision about which seat to use. 

Local council car seat fitting clinics report that two thirds of children are travelling in incorrectly installed or unsuitable child car seats, with children as young as two regularly found using the adult belt in booster seats instead of a seat with a harness. 

Visit our guide to choosing a child car seat to help you choose the safest restraint for the age of your child.

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