Are “Accidents” Really Accidents?

Are Accidents Really AccidentsAt Philbrook Law Firm, our lawyers represent personal injury victims. This means we represent anyone who is injured due to the preventable conduct of others. More precisely, it means the following:

  • Someone owed you a duty of care.
  • That someone breached their duty of care.
  • You suffered your injuries (or a loved one died) due to that lack of care.

These conditions are often lumped together into the word “accident.” There are car accidents, truck accidents, slip and fall accidents, and many other types of accidents.

However, the word “accident” isn’t quite the best word. As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

The reason “accident” is not the right word is that it implies that the conduct that caused your injuries was a random, unpreventable event – when just the opposite is true. Drivers, property owners, and others who cause your injuries should have anticipated the acts that caused your injuries.

It’s common to say your injuries were due to a drunk driving accident – but drunk driving is no accident. Driving drunk is conduct that never should have occurred. At a minimum, it is careless and irresponsible to drive while intoxicated. At worst, it is an intentional act that will reasonably cause harm.

The negligence standard

Generally, drivers who breach their duty of care do so through their actions or inactions. The breach does not have to be intentional. The key negligence question is, “Would a person understand that the reasonable consequence of their actions or inactions is to create a danger to others?”

For example, drivers do not need to violate a traffic law in order to be liable for any accidents they cause. It helps further prove your claim, but a violation of the law is not required. All that is required to show liability is that the at-fault driver acted unreasonably and that a reasonable driver would have anticipated the conditions leading to the accident.

For example, a driver who is traveling the speed limit can still be liable if the weather or traffic conditions would make a reasonable motorist slow down. A motorist who drives while tired or distracted should reasonably expect that their fatigue or loss of concentration will cause an accident, even if they didn’t violate any specific traffic laws.

Accidents are preventable

A new book by Jesse Singer, titled, “There Are No Accidents: The Deadly Rise of Injury and Disaster—Who Profits and Who Pays the Price,” explores how accidents are preventable. Mother Jones magazine discussed the book through a series of questions and answers with the author.

According to Singer, the word “accident” has been incorrectly interpreted to mean “unintentional” acts.

Singer says the use of the word “accident’ is a dangerous trick that makes it seem like there was nothing the actor (a driver, property owner, or manufacturer) could have done, when the injuries or deaths that occur are in reality completely preventable. This means there were steps and actions that could have prevented the collision, fall, or malfunction from occurring.

Singer also discusses how thinking about accidents as preventable helps more than just ensuring that victims can hold those who are negligent accountable for the injuries and deaths they cause. By focusing on what steps could have prevented the incident and ensuing harm, solutions and strategies can be developed to prevent future accidents from happening.

Singer provides several examples of how focusing on prevention may be more important than assuming criminal intent:

William Haddon, the first administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said, “We’ve all been miseducated that the way to solve this problem is to have more squads of police chasing Americans so that they wouldn’t drive 120 miles an hour, rather than arranging cars so they can’t go that fast.”

Imagine a city where every time a person was killed in traffic, instead of us calling the cops, we called the designer of that road, and we said to the Department of Transportation, “How did you design this road where this was allowed to happen? How are you gonna fix it?” This is not a matter of personal responsibility, but the design of the system that we’re providing for people.

Singer adds, “If we decide that a house fire is an accident, it means the building is fine, the regulations are fine, the laws are fine, and the problem is irresponsible people who let a fire start.” That approach doesn’t address the real problems that cause harm – building codes and safety regulations do matter. Leaving a cigarette unattended or using flammable materials creates unnecessary dangers. The irresponsible people deserve to be held accountable.

Singer concludes, “To err is human. Mistakes are inevitable, but our failure to protect people is not.”

The Act of God defense

Washington does provide one exception to the “there are no accidents” theory. Some acts are considered “Acts of God.” These Acts generally will not result in liability. The Act of God defense generally applies when an accident happens that was beyond the control of the driver – and was completely unforeseeable.

A common example is a tornado that comes out of nowhere and literally lifts your car into an opposing lane of travel, resulting in a head-on collision. A heart attack by a driver may be considered an Act of God.

Many insurance companies may deny Act of God claims because they were foreseeable. For example, drivers are expected to know the weather forecast. They can’t claim they didn’t know it was going to rain all day when the weather forecasts clearly predicted rain. Our Vancouver and Battle Ground attorneys can explain this in more detail in a consultation.

At Philbrook Law Firm, our car accident lawyers, premises liability lawyers, and lawyers for other types of accidents understand how life-changing injuries are. We have the experience, record of successful settlements and verdicts, and resources to help show that your accident was preventable, and that the defendants should be held liable for your economic and non-economic damages. Our Vancouver, WA and Battle Ground, WA attorneys are ready to explain your rights and pursue your claim. To schedule an appointment, call us at 360-695-3309 or fill out our contact form.