When a driver or passenger in a vehicle fails to wear a seat belt, they are clearly taking a risk with their safety. There might also be legal consequences if they are in a car accident and are not wearing their seat belt. The Ontario Court of Appeal has provided us with some guidance on this issue.

In the 2005 case of Snushall v. Fulsang, the Court reviewed the legal impact of a passenger’s decision not to wear a seat belt. Ms. Snushall was a passenger in a vehicle which was involved in a collision. She suffered serious injuries to her head and back. The car in which she was travelling had both a regular lap seat belt and a separate shoulder harness. At the time of the accident, Ms. Snushall was wearing the lap belt but not the shoulder harness.

The Court of Appeal reviewed past Canadian cases dealing with the use of seat belts. It noted that in these cases, the injured person had their damages reduced for not wearing a seat belt. The amount of the reduction ranged between 0% and 25% of their claim depending on whether the seat belt would have prevented the injuries.

The Court went on to say that a reduction of 25% of the claim is appropriate where all of the person’s injuries could have been avoided by wearing a seat belt; where this is not established by the evidence, the assessment should be less. In Ms. Snushall’s case, the court found that wearing the shoulder harness would not have prevented all of her injuries, so her claim was reduced by 5%.

In a 2007 decision, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice reviewed the law relating to seat belts in the case of Landreau v. Tremblay. In that case, the plaintiff had been riding in the box of a pick-up truck driven by his stepfather. As the truck was being driven across a farmer’s field, it fell into ditch, and the plaintiff struck his head on the truck’s roll bar.

The Court took note of the 25% maximum range for not wearing a seat belt set out in the Snushall case. However, in the Landreau case, the Court found that more blame should be placed on the plaintiff since he was in the box of the truck, rather than simply not wearing his seat belt. His claim was therefore reduced by 35%.

These cases highlight the legal importance of wearing a seat belt. Courts will reduce an injured person’s claim where the person was not wearing a seat belt which would have prevented their injuries.

For more information on contributory negligence and the consequences which might be faced if someone chooses not to wear their seat belt, or if you have any questions regarding the points outlined above, please feel free to contact me directly.

Cale Harrison

Associate – Personal Injury and Litigation Group

Disclaimer: This article is provided as an information resource. This article should not be relied upon to make decisions and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified legal professional. In all cases, contact a legal professional for advice on any matter referenced in this document before making any decisions. Any use of this document does not constitute a lawyer-client relationship. Please note that this information is current only to the date of posting. The law is constantly changing and always evolving.


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