Mum put child on ‘wrong booster’ seat

Posted: 1st May 2013

In a cautionary tale for all parents of young children, an 'excellent and caring mother' who put her three-year-old daughter on an unsuitable car booster cushion prior to a road accident has been held 25% responsible for the girl’s catastrophic injuries.Booster

The mother had made the same mistake as thousands of other parents when she put her daughter on the cushion designed for older, taller children. The girl suffered severe internal, brain and spinal injuries when her mother’s car was hit by a teenage driver who had consumed alcohol and illegal drugs before the collision and who died from his own injuries.

It was accepted that the accident was caused entirely by the teenager’s ‘extremely dangerous’ driving. However, in defending the little girl’s damages claim, his motor insurers argued that her mother had been negligent in putting her on the booster cushion when a safer five-point baby harness was also available in the car.

At first instance, the mother was found 25% liable for her daughter’s injuries and, in dismissing her challenge to that decision, the Court of Appeal ruled that the danger to the girl in placing her on the booster cushion was reasonably foreseeable.

The court emphasised that the highly responsible mother was in no way to blame for the accident and acknowledged that her daughter’s safety had been of paramount importance to her. Her conduct was ‘similar to thousands of other parents’ and no law had been broken.

However, the court noted that, although the girl was heavy enough for the booster cushion, she was eight centimetres too short for it and still 10 months away from her fourth birthday, the minimum age recommended by the manufacturers. Although she had seemed comfortable and secure on the cushion, the instruction booklet that came with it ‘contained clear and repeated warnings’ that a failure to use it correctly could result in serious injury or death.

The mother’s legal team had argued that the negligence finding against the mother amounted to a counsel of perfection, but the court noted that the girl simply ‘did not fit the requirements’ for the booster seat and emphasised the dangers of ‘premature graduation of a child from a harness seat to a booster seat or a seat belt’.

The outcome of the mother’s appeal will have no impact on the very substantial compensation now due to her daughter but means that 25% of the bill must be covered by the mother's motor insurers.