Accident in United Kingdom

Accident in the Business Encyclopaedia and Legal Adviser

Based on the Business Encyclopaedia and Legal Adviser , by W.S.M. Knight, Barrister –at – Law.

Accident is, in law, a most elusive term. And yet actions for damages for personal injuries, and injuries to property through accident, are for ever before the courts. The claim in most of such cases is based upon an alleged negligence of the defendant; and one of the most usual defences which the plaintiff has to meet is absence of negligence—accident, in fact.

Accident is like many other technical terms which are also in everyday use—difficult to define with exactness; easy to comprehend without actual definition. So far, we may take it that accident in law implies absence of negligence. But accident may have a more extended significance than that. It may also include what is known as inevitable accident and also the act of God. The act of God occurs in an accident caused by irresistible natural agency; in such a case, the question of negligence or its absence is of very minor importance. Inevitable accident occurs where the cause is a combination of human and natural agency, and wherein the human part of the agency may or may not be a determining factor. In such a case the question of negligence is of great importance. No one is liable for non-performance of duty or contract when such non-performance is caused by the act of God. An insurer—a common carrier, for example—may, however, be liable even though his defence be inevitable accident.

But to return to the immediate topic—Accident. For the plaintiff to succeed in such an action, he must show :—(a), facts that directly and irresistibly prove negligence on the part of the defendant; or if he cannot go so far as that:—(b), facts from which, in the judge’s opinion, a jury may reasonably infer negligence. If the plaintiff has evidence that will support (a), he will win his case; but if his evidence is so weak that he is driven to (b), the issue will be in the balance until first the judge has passed his opinion on the facts, and then the jury have delivered their verdict.

To prove negligence affirmatively, unless the facts are plain, is a difficult task. We will therefore, by way of illustration, direct the reader’s attention to the case of Redhead v. Mather. This was an action for damages for injuries caused by the defendant negligently driving a carriage and horses in a highway. Whilst being driven on the public highway, the defendant’s horses, startled by a dog, ran away, and became so unmanageable that the driver could not stop them, but could to some extent guide them. While unsuccessfully trying to turn a corner safely, the driver guided the horses so that, without his intending it, they knocked down and injured the plaintiff who was in the highway. The jury found there was no negligence in any one. It was held that since the driver had done his best under the circumstances, the directing of the horses towards the plaintiff was not a wrongful act. Lord Bramwell said that the driver was absolutely free from all blame in the matter; not only did he not do anything wrong, but he endeavored to do what was the best to be done under the circumstances. The misfortune happened through the horses being so startled by the dog that they ran away. Now if the plaintiff under such circumstances can bring an action, there is really no reason why he could not bring an action because a splash of mud, in the ordinary course of driving, was thrown upon his clothes or got into his eye and so injured it. For the convenience of mankind in carrying on the affairs of life, people as they go along roads must expect, or put up with, such mischief as reasonable care on the part of others cannot avoid.

From this case, being as it is typical of others of a like nature, we may deduce the principle that no one is liable for an accident if he be free from fault. And it is in accordance therewith that a person who, walking along the street, through an accident slips and falls against, and breaks a window, is not liable for any damage he may thereby cause. But it would be different if he were, at the time, committing an unlawful act, e.g. an assault, or walking recklessly or without care. He would then be liable. See Negligence in English Law.

Definition of Accident

In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Accident :

See fatal accidents; mistake; road traffic accidents.

Definition of Accident Helpline Scheme

Accident compensation helpline able to undertake regulated claims management activities under provisions of the compensation act 2006.



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