Car Crashes Aren't

Car Crashes Aren't "Just an Accident"

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.

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