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Are accidents avoidable or unavoidable by definition?

  1. Feb 19, 2005 #1
    I got to thinking the other day after someone opened a door (with a clear glass pane) which then whacked me in the head. as I stood on the other side.
    The person involved said "sorry, it was an accident". I then thought later:
    No I won't accept your apology because to me it was not an accident.
    It was imprudence and a lack of attention.
    I always thought an accident by definition was something unavoidable i.e act of god (for all the believers out there). I found this definition in a 1913 Websters:

    \Ac"ci*dent\, n. [F. accident, fr. L. accidens,
    -dentis, p. pr. of accidere to happen; ad + cadere to fall.
    See {Cadence}, {Case}.]
    1. Literally, a befalling; an event that takes place without
    one's foresight or expectation; an undesigned, sudden, and
    unexpected event; chance; contingency; often, an
    undesigned and unforeseen occurrence of an afflictive or
    unfortunate character; a casualty; a mishap; as, to die by
    an accident.

    So my point is: what is an accident?? and in similar situations to the one I described above, should an apology be accepted?
    I tend to think no, and castigate the person involved for not looking first, if they had, the incident would have been avoided.
    Insurance companies and many others have very different definitions of the word "accident". It seem to to me that we often say "sorry" and assign the blame to "an accident" rather than taking responsibility for our actions and admitting a lack of due care and attention.

    So, is an accident by definition avoidable or unavoidable.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 19, 2005 #2


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    You are correct. In your case, it was not an accident, but merely a failure of the other person to pay attention - which is negligence.

    The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000, or
    Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law, © 1996 Merriam-Webster, Inc.

    Accidents do happen, but most accidents are not really accidents. The guilty (negligent) party simply refuses to accept responsibility for negligence.

    An accident by definition is unavoidable, although the definition from Websters is a bit vague. Is the lack of foresight due to distraction, lack of experience, or lack of attention/thought? Should the person causing the accident have been more cautious?

    Nevertheless, if an apology is sincere, then one should accept it. Perhaps the person was distracted, or simply careless. One must reflect upon one's own carelessness and negligence before castigating another for the same behavior. Rather than castigate, one could simply say to the other, "Please, before more careful in the future."
  4. Feb 19, 2005 #3
    It looks to be, from that definition, that an accident is unavoidable. Had you seen the person getting ready to open the door, or opening the door, you would have probably moved your head. Yes the person should have probably paid more attention, but you can not control what other people do, so just relax and enjoy this careless accident prone life we all live. As for apology acception. What would you have done had he/she not said sorry? You would have probably been a hell of a lot more pissed off. An apology may not mean much, but it is better than no apology at all. At least the person is acknowledging that he/she made a mistake.
  5. Feb 19, 2005 #4
    There's nothing in the common definition that says that an accident is something "unavoidable". It doesn't even say that it "could not have been avoided". It only says that it was not anticipated, expected or intended to happen.

    Whether someone could have anticipated it and/or prevented it had he been more careful is another issue. Negligent people cause accidents. That's what keeps lawyers happy.
  6. Feb 19, 2005 #5


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    I agree with the others, that accidents are unavoidable, if it's avoidable, it's a mistake or negligence. Apologizing is accepting blame, which automatically indicates it was avoidable and you didn't go far enough to avoid it. It's hard to think of an example of a real accident, because they are so uncommon.
  7. Feb 19, 2005 #6
    Mistakes and negligence are types of accidents. Otherwise nothing is an accident because you can prevent all future accidents through suicide.
  8. Feb 19, 2005 #7
    A traffic accident for example is almost always a result of negligence but still called an accident.
  9. Feb 19, 2005 #8
    The definition of accident doesn't include the word "unavoidable".

    The Random House Webster's College Dictionary (2000 revised ed.) gives this:
    1. an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs unintentionally and usually results in injury, damage or loss.
    2. an incident that results in injury, in no way the fault of the victim, for which compensation or indemnity is legally sought.
    3. any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate (emphasis mine) plan or cause.
    4. chance; fortune; luck.
    5. a nonessential or incidental feature or circumstance.

    Only the 4th meaning implies "unavoidability". The others, particularly the first two, clearly allow for someone to be responsible for causing an accident.
  10. Feb 19, 2005 #9


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    Yes people tend to say something was an "accident" when what they mean is "unintentional", but I doubt that most people mean to deceive you when they say it. The person is obviously embarrassed and just spouts out the first thing that comes into their mind. If it truly seems unintentional and they offer an apology, it would be discourteous not to accept.

    Lighten up. :wink:
  11. Feb 19, 2005 #10


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    Hmm...the Oxford English Dictionary seems to allow for both interpretations people have come up with:

    accident /’æksId(ə)nt/ n. 1 unfortunate esp. harmful event, caused unintentionally. 2 event that is unexpected or without apparent cause. □ by accident unintentionally. [Latin cado fall]
  12. Feb 19, 2005 #11
    accidents in my case are neither avoidable or unavoidable in my experience, but ineveitable.
  13. Feb 19, 2005 #12

    That about settles the issue.
  14. Feb 20, 2005 #13


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    Doesn't that mean that the word "accident" is pretty much useless? Every "accident", unless caused by an unexpected act of nature (a meteor falling through the hood of your car) has a man-made cause and is avoidable.

    The way I read the definition, anything (bad) that happens without your foreknowledge is an accident. It doesn't matter if you should have known you'd fall asleep behind the wheel after pulling an allnighter - you didn't. Its an accident - just a preventable one. As long as you didn't do it (fall asleep behind the wheel and rear-end someone), its an accident.

    Also, legally I don't think it matters if its called an "accident" - there can still be negligence involved. I'm sure you've all heard the term "accidental death" - that's what they call it when a kid plays with a loaded gun...

    Wardw, the way I always take that apology you got is: "I'm sorry for being a dumbass."
    Last edited: Feb 20, 2005
  15. Feb 20, 2005 #14


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    Another thought occurred to me on this. Wardw was upset because the person could have looked through the glass pane and avoided hitting him through the door, yet, if there was a glass pane, couldn't Wardw also have seen through that glass pane and stepped aside when he saw someone on the other side about to push the door open? And if he was just standing there, not paying attention to the door at all, then perhaps he's the one who should have apologized for standing in the way and blocking the door.

    In the end, it hardly matters what you call it. If you find yourself colliding with people often, whether with doors, cars, or your own person, perhaps it's time to get your head out of the clouds and pay attention to what's going on around you.
  16. Feb 20, 2005 #15


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    Here is the way I look at it. A doorway is not to be stood in. You can pick thousands of places to stand, but someone else can likely pick only one door to walk through. Stay out of the damn way. I'm not saying I slam everyone I see when walking through a door, but I think it is tantamount to standing on the highway and complaining when a car hits you.
  17. Feb 20, 2005 #16


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    If this guy is that angry for something this small, I couldn't imagine how crazy he is in a car. (Major Road Rage)
  18. Feb 20, 2005 #17


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    Yeah Jason I hadn't thought of that. You bring up a good point. I have been in a situation where I closely looked for traffic and seen none. Yet I was in a close call because there really were cars coming. Notice I said CLOSELY looked. No collision, but a dangerous situation. Was I at fault? Yes. Had I killed someone should I have been punished as severely as if I had just not bothered looking at all? I think that is what the discussion comes down to. Humans are error prone. This is why we have the so-called accidents. This is also the reason why we shouldn't expect everyone else to look out for us when standing in doorways and such. Always have in the back of your mind that someone else may not see you; try to play it safe.
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