By: Mark Roman
Car crashes are always someone's fault.
There were more than 374,000 traffic crashes in Florida in 2015. And we
are well on pace for similar numbers for 2016. About 160,000 involved
injuries and there were almost 3,000 fatalities. Insurance companies and
their defense lawyers love to call these “accidents”. They
even suggest to juries that these crashes are nobody’s fault. This
is a very dangerous defense tactic. It suggests an alternative to finding
a careless driver at fault and deprives the victim of justice. It’s
really time to change things.
At least 28 state transportation departments have stopped using “accident”
in reference to traffic crashes. Jeff Larason, Director of Highway Safety
in Massachusetts, runs a blog entitled “Drop the A Word," promoting
a message to get reporters and news sources to discontinue use of the
word “accident." Mr. Larason states that accident is simply
the wrong word, and likely very frequently incorrectly used.
That is the position of a growing number of safety advocates, including
grass-roots groups, federal officials and state and local leaders across
the country. They are campaigning to change a 100-year-old mentality that
they say trivializes the single most common cause of traffic incidents:
human error. Human error is never “just an accident.”
In April, The A.P. enacted a new rule. When negligence is claimed or proven in a
car crash, the new rule states, media should not use the term “accident,”
which implies a lack of responsibility for the at-fault party. Further,
many critics believe “accident” may even desensitize the public
to mass death.
In 2014, NYC changed its legal policy to use terms other than accident
because of efforts made by local residents, including organizations like
Families for Safe Streets. Started by the family of a Brooklyn boy fatally
injured in a wreck, Families for Safe Streets started the “Crash
Not Accident” campaign. The campaign focuses on using the neutral
term “crash” until it can be determined what truly happened
and whether the crash was truly an accident.
Merriam-Webster defines accident as “an unexpected happening”
that “is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the person
injured.” This does not accurately describe the misfortune that
comes to our clients. In our office we deal every day with the consequences
of careless, negligent and reckless drivers. Use of the word accident
minimizes the reality of the event. Car crashes are always someone’s
fault. They are not unavoidable acts of God. They are not unforeseeable,
and can always be anticipated when someone does not use due care for the
safety of other motorists.
A classic example is the epidemic of drivers who text. I now sit at stoplights
observing motorists around me. Last time I saw every visible driver looking
at their phones...texting. Every single one. Our state is one of the few
who fail to make such incredibly dangerous behavior a significant traffic
violation. When these motorists injure, maim or kill other motorists,
pedestrians or bike riders I can assure you, it is no “accident”.
It’s simply tragedy, and completely preventable. All crashes are.
We recently asked a judge to prohibit a defense attorney we know from telling,
or suggesting to a jury that the crash in question was “just an
accident,” arguing that there is no provision in the law for such
a position and that it suggests to a jury to not follow the law in determining
fault for a crash. Assigning fault for a crash is a jury’s first
task. Fortunately for our client, the Judge agreed.