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Man bent over his wheel


Jerry Pearson April 20, 2021

Depending on the facts, words can have different meanings, with different implications in our lives. Here is an example: 

A motorcycle policeman is on duty and working to protect the community when he is rear-ended by a drunk driver. There are serious injuries and now a key question: Was this an accident? 

The word "accident" implies the event was not preventable and there was no one responsible for causing the harm and injuries. Here is the Courtroom moment: 

The drunk driver's attorney is hired by the insurance company to tell Court and Jury that his client is sorry for this “accident”. 

Representing the injured officer and his family, we tell the Court and Jury that we reject the word "accident”. We explain that no one should be endangered by a reckless driver and that the collision was caused by negligence, and the injuries were preventable. 

Another way of saying this is that had the driver not driven recklessly under the influence there would have been no collision. It was only because the drunk driver was careless and negligent that the collision occurred. Had he taken reasonable care he could have avoided creating the circumstances where the officer was seriously injured. 

The only remedy given the traumatic harms is to hold the reckless driver responsible and accountable. Safety standards must be enforced. As counsel for injured individuals and their families, we are certain that words have meanings and implications, and we are sensitive to the distinctions of terminology. 

As a member of the community, what do you think? 

Here are some other examples: A recent article written by Joe Lindsey for Men’s Health focuses on a catastrophic injury caused by a driver hitting a bicyclist. To read the article click here

This Lindsey article cites publications that refer to the “bike accident” as inaccurate and confusing for these same reasons. Lindsey cites 2001 research published by medical journals and 2019 research from multiple universities regarding terminology and the implications of words. 

While Lindsey's article focuses on the way these incidents are described by the media, it is clear that a more accurate context is important to fully understand how to best communicate to the public about responsibilities and accountability. 

Use of the term "accident" is often overly simplistic, and often just plain wrong, and can essentially undermine our efforts to have safety standards that are enforced by our community. Standards will prevent harm and injuries to others and hold negligent parties fully accountable for the consequences of their actions. 

An apology for causing an “accident” makes no sense.