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JLeslie's avatar

Do you think the word accident applies to circumstances that used very poor judgement?

Asked by JLeslie (48263 points ) April 4th, 2014

If a car crashes and the driver was looking down at his phone texting, did he have an accident?

When someone gets hurt because people are rough housing?

When a glass of red wine falls on the white carpet and the glass had been set down at the table’s edge?

When a child gets burned because the pot handle was left sticking out from the stove.

A person gets lost in a snowstorm and almost dies, because they took a remote path.

Are those accidents?

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39 Answers

KNOWITALL's avatar

Accidents are unintentional, so I would use the word accident.
That being said, accidents can be prevented.

ibstubro's avatar

In that “accident” refers to an unintended outcome, I would judge all your scenarios to be accidents but for the burned child. The burned child would fall somewhere between neglect and incompetence in that the child did not have the experience to to help safeguard themselves.

eno's avatar

Poor judgement cancels out the use of accident.

In all your cases, the person caused his own consequence and/or the child’s.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

It’s still an accident, because no one wanted to have the bad outcome, but you’re right, if your doing something stupid it isn’t really an accident as much as negligence. Except for the roughhousing.

Coloma's avatar

Shit happens, plain and simple. We’re not talking drinking and driving or other extremely reckless behavior. All the scenarios presented could be called “accident”, meaning, as @KNOWITALL said, unintentional. There was sad case in my area a few years ago where a mother fell asleep on a raft in her swimming pool with her toddler on her chest and the baby fell off and drowned.

I felt nothing but sympathy for the mom. A happy little float in the pool turned tragic.
Now a drunk driver,...sorry, you fucked up and now you will reap the consequences.

I would not call that neglect, just a horrible accident.

gailcalled's avatar

In my personal experience, all my bad accidents were triggered by my bad judgment.

Some accidents are just that, however; being in the spot where a random god hurls a lightening bolt.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@Coloma Until IQ tests are required to be a parent, or get a drivers license, etc….lol

gailcalled's avatar

Having a high IQ neither equates with being a good parent nor a good driver.

KNOWITALL's avatar

@gailcalled I’m not convinced of that.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Life is nothing but one big accident. Usually they’re good accidents. It was only by accident that you weren’t in that intersection when the semi ran a red light.

JLeslie's avatar

@Coloma That is a tragic story. That poor mom. I almost never go in the pool alone, which with an infant you are alone. My mom’s voice is in my head never to do it. I do admit to doing it sometimes though.

A very dear friend of ours, her daughter took a nap with her toddler son (my friend’s grandchild) and her toddler got out to the backyard and drowned in the pool. They think maybe he got out through the dog door. There was no alarm, no kiddy fence around the pool. I wouldn’t go as far to say she was negligent, and I can definitely understand falling asleep from exhaustian and being so tired you don’t feel your baby get out of bed, but I do think the basic precautions weren’t done that should have been. The law was not followed. The law is to have all openings to the back alarmed or a kiddy fence. Still, I felt nothing but empathy for my friend and her daughter. This was not the daughter’s house it was the grandmother’s house.

Some people seem less able to predict what can go wrong. I could write a book about it, but even as “smart” as I think I am about this sort of thing, certainly accidents happen to me, I make errors in judgement, and I take risks hoping the worst won’t happen, but shit happens.

Sleepy driving and texting while driving is basically the same as drunk driving. It has been proven over and over in simulations. We are less alert, less reaction time. Probably all of us have driven when we are vey tired, but it really isn’t a good idea.

@Dutchess_III There are some accidents we can help prevent, aren’t there? You don’t think it is all fated do you?

Inspired_2write's avatar

Somtimes so called accidents were meant to happen.
In order to meet that one and only?
In order to get on with your goals.
More along these lines of thoughts…..fate happens for a reason to detour us in the right direction in our lives.

cookieman's avatar

To answer, I will tell you this recent story:

A lovely aunt of mine was recently diagnosed with lung cancer and is dying. She was a chain smoker for many years. My 11-year-old daughter overheard a family member say that the cancer was caused by “an accident of nature”. To this, my daughter said, “Isn’t it kind of her own fault and not an accident?”

livelaughlove21's avatar

It’s an accident if there was no intent to do harm, or intent to cause what eventually happens to occur.

Being neglectful is something totally different. A person gets behind the wheel after a few too many drinks and kills someone. It was an accident, yes, but it was also negligent or reckless homicide.

hominid's avatar

If I understand your question correctly, it seems that you are implying that the term accident is something that should refer to something that happens because nobody could have possibly seen it happening. I think I used to hold a view that was similar to this. Take driving – if everyone is paying 100% attention, then nearly every accident scenario you could cook up would be preventable. So, it would seem as though what we refer to as accidents are in some sense voluntary actions. We look down at the phone, knowing the real risk in doing so. It’s no different than dropping an uncooked egg on the floor and feigning surprise when it shatters and makes a mess.

But I think the word “accident” might be useful in the more traditional sense. It has to do with intention. If my intention is to finish my glass of wine, but competition for my attention has resulted in me leaving it on the edge of the table, it is useful to assign the label “accident” when my glass tumbles to the floor. It allows us to keep our intentions and acknowledge that our attention is not always cooperative in helping us achieve our intentions.

JLeslie's avatar

@hominid Two years ago I was the passenger in a golf cart and the driver decided to free wheel down a steep hill. On the way down I became nervous how fast we were going, she said, “I know it’s scary, but it will be fine when we get to the bottom.” She knew it was scary. That to me meant she intentionally went speeding down a hill, knowing it was scary, which translates to risky in my mind, without asking the passengers if we wanted to take the risk. Her intention was not to get hurt, and not to get us hurt, but her intention was to get some sort of thrill I guess. I never ever would do something like that ever. When people ask me about my accident, I usually correct them and say I don’t call it an accident, I call it a crash. The driver purposely went too fast down a hill in a vehicle meant for slow speeds. I do believe she felt everything would be fine, that in her mind it was not risky.

Symbeline's avatar

If it wasn’t intentional, it’s an accident, even if the person is a giant butt master.

hominid's avatar

^ I get that. Hence, the first paragraph of my answer above. I was once convinced there was no such thing as an accident. I’m not even sure what I feel about that now (and is likely wrapped up in my current inability to imagine a concept of free will that is compatible with existence).

But, I’m curious. If you were to design a language from scratch and you were tasked with coming up with terminology to express the whole range of experience that is possible with this topic, what would you call your experience in the golf cart? What else would be included in this category, and what would not be included? How many other words/categories would be needed to fully express the wide range of experience?

Coloma's avatar

@JLeslie Yes, it is all about perception, which does make everyone privy to their own reality.
I learned a lesson a few years ago when I put my friends, novice, horse husband on my extremely fast and sensitive to the slightest ques, roping quarter horse.
He walked him down my long driveway, but, when he turned him around at the bottom he shifted his weight just a bit forward, which was a major que to bolt from the line. My horse took off like the scud missile and my friends husband was white as a ghost as they came charging up the hill at about 40mph. haha

I was petrified, but he just exclaimed ” now THAT’S a HORSE!”
Never again. Lesson learned.

JLeslie's avatar

@hominid Let me state that this Q is a curiousity and an exercise for me. I didn’t have a preset idea in my head when I write the Q. I think it is very complicated.

You’re right about the language. All these examples can easily be called an accident and I think they fit the definition of accident, or at least one of the acceptable definitions of accident. Even if there was a word for no bad intentions, but the person didn’t take prudent precautions, I think it would be hard to decide Which word to use when, because it is up to each individuals perception how they feel about a situation.

As far as my accident, I feel is was not a simple accident. The driver might feel it was. Or, maybe she beats herself up every day for taking the risk and doesn’t see it as an accident, I don’t know. People who take lots of risks might really be inclined to want to call it an accident, because they are thinking there but for the grace of God go I. See, that’s the thing, driving fast down a hill is not fun for me, not a risk I would ever take, so maybe I have less empathy.

As far as the toddler who drowned, I would perceive a dog door as a danger for a toddler. I don’t really think of the mother as culpable for her child’s death, but I don’t understand why they all did not see the door as a danger, and obviously the pool is a danger.

I guess I am critical of the failure to perceive danger. Anyone can turn their head for a second and their toddler can get into trouble, so I am very very forgiving and understanding of parents in most situations. I always say children under the age of 5 are suicidal. They stick keys in electrical sockets, jump off counters, run into traffic, and jump into pools.

Since the driver of the golf cart knew it was scary, I feel she thought it was ok to take us on a scary ride, and since I don’t like anything scary, I feel that was unfair for her to decide for me. If we had made it to the bottom of the hill just fine I still would have been pissed! If the crash had not happened, I would have been saying, “I will never get in a cart with her again.’

hominid's avatar

@JLeslie – It just occurred to me that the concept of “blame” runs through much of what you’re talking about here. Do you consider an accident to be an event for which there is no discernible person to blame?

Dutchess_III's avatar

Absolutely I feel many accidents can be prevented @JLeslie. Some accidents should never have happened.

JLeslie's avatar

@hominid I think blame is part of it. I do blame her. I don’t identify with her, in that I would not take that sort of risk. I also don’t feel a lot of anger towards her, because I don’t feel she had intentions to harm anyone. I hope she does not punish herself daily in her own mind, as I mentioned above. I hope she was able to free herself from that sort of burden if she did feel it for a while. She was very upset when it all happened. I think people can be to blame and also can be forgiven for the bad judgement or mistake. We all make mistakes.

Coloma's avatar

Sometimes accidents happen just because of inexperience. I think this is a valid factor as well.
@JLeslie Your friend should have slown down when you expressed fear, that was inconsiderate, to put it mildly, but, if she was not very experienced with driving a golf cart she may have mistaken her speed to be safer than it was.
Once, I drove a friends motor home, and because of my inexperience I mistakenly tried to clear a too low clearance and ended up scraping the AC unit on the roof of an overhang. Same thing driving a U-Haul truck once.
I am not good with mega sized vehicles, at all. lol

cookieman's avatar

When my wife was in law school, she was taught that in crimes lacking intent, you had to look at what a “reasonable” person would expect as an outcome to determine fault or, possibly negligence.

I like to apply this logic to “accidents”.

For example, would a “reasonable person” expect that having sex without birth control is likely to result in pregnancy? Yes. Therefore, if you become or get someone pregnant and were not on birth control, don’t tell me it’s an “accident”. It was poor judgement.

Would a reasonable person expect that driving above the speed limit in a snow storm is likely to result in an accident? Yes.

Would a reasonable person expect that standing on your tip-toes at the very top of a ladder is likely to result in a fall? Yes.

And so on.

Now, there are variables of course.

For example someone might fully understand the possibility for disaster (a reasonable person) but choose to do it anyway because they feel the potential gain outweighs the risks. But if something does go wrong, still not an accident. Simply a considered judgement that did not pay off as hoped.

To me, a true “accident” is when someone engages in an activity that a “reasonable person” would consider low risk (based on a variety of factors) and something unexpected happens.

You cross a street at a crosswalk, with the light, look both ways, and a car comes out of nowhere and hits you. That’s an accident (at least for you). Now, if the driver was drunk, or speeding, it is not an accident for him. He is instead, the cause of the accident for you. Specifically, his bad judgement caused your accident.

So the two go hand in hand sometimes.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Ahh, @cookieman You are talking about Torts!

You must consider how the reasonable man would react in a given situation AND
you must consider proximate cause!

See Mrs. Palsgraf vs. The long Island Railroad.

“A passenger carrying a package, while hurrying to catch and board a moving LIRR train, appeared to two of the railroad’s (Defendant’s) employees to be falling. The employees were guards, one of whom was located on the car, the other of whom was located on the platform. The guard on the car attempted to pull the passenger into the car and the guard on the platform attempted to push him into the car from behind.

The guards’ efforts to aid the passenger caused the passenger to drop the package he was holding onto the rails. Unbeknownst to the guards, the package, which was approximately 15 inches long and wrapped in newspaper, contained fireworks, and the package exploded when it hit the rails. The shock reportedly knocked down scales at the other end of the platform (although later accounts suggest that a panicking bystander may have upset the scale), which injured Mrs. Helen Palsgraf (Plaintiff).

Palsgraf sued the railroad, claiming her injury resulted from negligent acts of the employee. The trial court and the intermediate appeals court found for Palsgraf (Plaintiff) by verdict from a jury, and Long Island Rail Road appealed the judgment.”

josie's avatar

No. Accident refers to inadvertent events. Negligent refers to carelessness.

cookieman's avatar

@Dan_Lyons: Right, “Torts”. That’s it. I spent many hours helping my wife study for that (and criminal, and contracts, and constitutional, and…)

JLeslie's avatar

@cookieman @Coloma With my golf cart crash no reasonable person would do what she did, only dare devils, thrill seekers, and people who are not too bright. It is the type of hill that in a golf cart, car, bike, etc, you put your foot on the brake, and release a little now and then to get down the hill at a reasonable, safe, speed. She was in her early 30’s, not 16 and a new driver. She “knew” it was scary. She had done it before. She didn’t estimate the hill wrong like @Coloma‘s motor home incident, except to say that if she had flown down that hill before alone, now she had two other passengers, almost 300 more pounds in the cart, to increase the velocity going down the hill. She was freewheeling remember. No brake no gas. Just speed entering the top of the hill, weight, slope, and gravity. It was reckless in my opinion.

Coloma's avatar

@JLeslie A dimwit daredevil…not a good combo. :-/

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

I would say in the incidents you described they were more like unfortunate mishaps; some call them accidents because they can’t figure anything else to call them, or they believe because they happened un-expectantly. If you know something can happen but do not take every precaution to avoid it and it happens, it is not really a genuine accident. For instance, you are walking in a windy day and a branch falls from a tree you are walking under and strikes you causing you to spill your coffee, that might be an accident, but since it was by no action of yours it might really be an unfortunate mishap. However, if you are running nearly full speed on a snowy sidewalk where you know it is slippery and maybe even has black ice and you go falling pell-mell onto the pavement, it may be classified an accident, but it was an avoidable accident. It was not a true accident because they should have known the likelihood of slipping and falling in the snow or ice was rather high.

gailcalled's avatar

As I was driving down a side street in town today with a 15 mph speed limit (next to the local middle school) I caught myself craning up at the sky to watch a red-tailed hawk soaring. Just as dangerous as texting, I reminded myself.

JLeslie's avatar

@gailcalled We all can be distracted, and any distraction can wind up in an accident if the timing is right. I don’t text, but I sometimes am looking down at a map, or, even my mind wonders and my focus is not as good as it should be. This is why I tend to be very understanding of accidents, it can happen to anyone. Your moment of distraction hopefully is not happening the same time a child runs out into the street, God forbid. Someone who is texting practically their whole car ride at higher speeds is taking more risk, more opportunity for the mishap. Same with the drunk guy. I had someone hit the back of my car at a stoplight. She told me she was looking down at her phone. She started to move before I was moving.

Dutchess_III's avatar

I tend to anticipate trouble long before my husband. More than once I’ve said, “He’s gonna run that stop sign,” or “He’s going to move into our lane,” before the person actually started to do it. Every time it has actually happened. Rick doesn’t know how I can do that. I’m not sure either. Maybe the attitude of the driver, or the attitude of the car. It’s slightly rolling at the stop sign or something. But yeah. If an “accident” happened, it could have been avoided both by the person in the other car who isn’t paying attention, or the person in our car who isn’t prepared.

If I recall, you really, seriously got hurt in that reckless golf cart accident, didn’t you @JLeslie?

JLeslie's avatar

@Dutchess_III Yes. I had a small tear in my lung, cuts, bruises and road rash in many places, and severe vertigo. The vertigo was so bad I could not get out of bad at all for two days. I could not sit up, I could not even roll on my side to sleep. I didn’t drive for 6 weeks, I couldn’t wear a bra for six weeks, I basically could not do much of anything for 6 weeks. After the 6 weeks mark I slowly got better, but never completely. I still have neck and shoulder problems two years later, and some scars obviously.

My girlfriend, who was the other passenger, had a little road rash, a cut on her head, and a subdural hematoma. She has permanently lost her sense of smell and most of her sense of taste. She was in ICU for days and the hospital over two weeks initially.

If we had died I think the authorities might have investigated for possible charges against the driver. I have no idea if anything like that would have resulted in anything though. Not that I think she should arrested. I was slammed into a chain link fence, if it had been in bad conditions with a “wire” sticking out it could have easily killed me. The top of the fence where there is the big bar across and the wires kind of end is where my chest hit, and I had big slices across my breasts. One more little bit deeper and the whole thing would have had to have been sewn, but I got away with no stitches there. That impact must have caused the lung tear. It was so hard to breath, because the air escaped my lungs so they could not expand well. Scary shit.

Coloma's avatar

@JLeslie Has it really been TWO years? Jesus….time warp!

JLeslie's avatar

I can’t believe it is two years either. Two years a few weeks ago.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Jebus. If I remember your friend who was driving never even apologized, did she?

JLeslie's avatar

She wasn’t a friend, she was a woman brought to the track by one of the drivers who hangs out with our group. He’s in his 60’s, she in her early 30’s, to paint a picture. Doesn’t matter, he brought her, so we are friendly to her. She basically did apologize in that she was freaked and said she was going to take care of everything right when it happened. I know she was inconsolable crying when she was discharged from the hospital and went back to the track while they packed up everything to go home. I know because my friend’s who were there saw her. So, she didn’t formally apologize, but knowing how upset she was is enough for me in terms of knowing she felt badly. The guy she came with has a lot of money, owns a very successful business, and I am sure a lawyer told him to not admit or apologize for anything, and he probably told her the same. I have empathy for that position.

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