O’Connell v Jackson

[1971] 3 WLR 463; [1972] 1 QB 270; [1971] 3 All ER 129;

[1971] 2 Lloyd's Rep 354; [1972] RTR 51; (1971) 115 SJ 742;



The plaintiff was an experienced motorist, travelling to work at 20 mph on a major road in a busy traffic area. Contrary to the Highway Code, the plaintiff was not wearing a seatbelt. The defendant was emerging from a minor road and stopped at the junction with the major road but then negligently moved forwards, causing the plaintiff to collide with it. As a result, the plaintiff sustained severe head injuries. At the trial of the plaintiff’s action for damages, the defendant admitted that he was guilty of negligence. It was held that the plaintiff was not guilty of contributory negligence because although wearing a seatbelt would have reduced the gravity of his injuries, his conduct was not unreasonable. The defendant appealed to the Court of Appeal.


Does a motorist’s failure to wear a helmet amount to contributory negligence in case of an accident?


The appeal was allowed.

(1) Applying Jones v Livox Quarries [1952] 2 QB 608, the plaintiff should have foreseen the possibility of being involved in an accident even though he was driving with care and at a reasonable speed.

(2) Although the defendant is solely responsible for the accident, the plaintiff’s negligence is relevant to the gravity of the injuries and damage sustained as injuries of such gravity would not have occurred, had he worn a helmet.

Therefore, the plaintiff must bear some of the responsibility for the consequences of the accident and the amount of damages is to be reduced by 15 per cent.