Dalhousie Law Journal


Seat belts, contributory negligence, defence


There are now thirty-six cases mentioned in the Canadian and English reports where it has been argued that the failure to wear a seat belt amounts to contributory negligence. I The defence was successfully made out in only ten of these cases, with damages being reduced by five per cent to thirty-three and a third per cent under the applicable contributory negligence statutes. 2 This volume of litigation would not provoke comment were it not for the division of judicial opinion and the confusion of judicial thinking to be found in these conflicting decisions. Even in England where it was thought that the seat belt defence was well-established, some uncertainty recently arose over the availability of the defence. 3 This doubt has now been removed by the Court of Appeal, 4 but this decision has yet to have an impact on the Canadian scene, where the position remains unsettled. 5 The present uncertain state of the law makes it useful to attempt to lay down a theoretical framework within which the issue can be discussed. The seat belt cases are also of interest and worthy of discussion for a number of other reasons.

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