After our segment on CTV Morning Live on July 9, 2014, a viewer emailed Brenda Hollingsworth to comment that all this talk of “accidents” was misplaced. All the boating and swimming pool incidents we were discussing were not accidents, he argued, but preventable events. Some clients have a similar reaction when we refer to their motor vehicle collision as an accident.
Here is Brenda’s explanation. You may or may not agree.
First, “motor vehicle accident” is a term of art. All of the precedents, legal treaties, police paperwork etc, refer to motor vehicle accidents or MVAs. Basically, the use of the word “accident” is so prevalent in my business that it rolls off my tongue without too much thought. I did try to use motor vehicle collision for a while, but it didn’t stick. In the U.S., many of the personal injury lawyers I know refer to car accidents as car “wrecks”. That is certainly descriptive, but too harsh or graphic for me.
Second, when lawyers say “accident” what we mean is that the negligent actor / at-fault person / defendant did not INTEND to cause harm. We sue for negligence. We don’t prosecute intentional crime or assaults when we represent injured people in our office. Our compensation model in Ontario focuses on the degree of injury to the victim, not the degree of fault or moral culpability of the wrong doer. You don’t get more money if the accident was easliy preventable. The quantum of damages is based on the severity of the victim’s impairments, assuming the other party caused the injuries.
From my perspective, the fact that an incident was preventable does not mean it wasn’t an accident. Most accidents are preventable. We spend a lot of time in our newsletter and on our website promoting safety and accident prevention.
What do you think? Should we scrap the term accident? What word should we use instead?