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  • Writer's pictureJoe McCoy

Just an Accident

Updated: Oct 25, 2021

“IT WAS AN ACCIDENT! IT WAS AN ACCIDENT,” my 6-year-old daughter yells as she trails her 4-year-old sister into the living room—the 4-year-old is crying in agony: “It was NOT an accident, Paisley: you hurt me—look at the bump on my head!” My 4-year-old, Julia, turns her attention to me, the Judge: “Daddy, Paisley hurt me. And it was NOT an accident!”

After determining that Julia’s condition is not life threatening, my mind wanders to our civil justice system….

My 6-year-old—the cause of the injury here—has realized an important distinction in our human concept of fairness. She’s emphatic that her sister’s injury was simply an accident—not intentional. Therefore, she implies, it should be forgiven and forgotten. My 4-year-old apparently concedes the importance of this distinction—she retorts that this was most assuredly NOT an accident.

We forgive accidents. Accidents happen. We’re all human after all. But in my experience helping people who have been seriously injured, I’ve learned that there is usually a reason an “accident” happens. Very rarely does a driver slam into the back of another car if the driver was following the rules of the road. Often I discover that the driver was texting, was sleep deprived after a long night of partying, or was simply not looking at the road in front of him: that’s an important place to look while driving.

Was it an accident? Sure—in the sense that an injury was not intended. But the accident stemmed from the violation of very basic safety rules. The driver was not as careful as he should have been. And there are serious consequences for violating safety rules. We depend on people and companies following safety rules to keep all of us safe. Accident or not, the crash can change the trajectory of lives.

Turning my attention back to my screaming children who are waiting for me to dole out justice, I investigate:

“What happened?” I ask.

“Well, I was playing with the whiffle ball bat, and Julia’s head got in the way.” My 6-year-old explains.

“It was MY turn to play with the bat, and you hit me!” My 4-year-old protests.

“Paisley: we NEVER swing the bat in the house—especially when anyone else is close to us.” There’s the safety rule violation, I think to myself. I also have some questions about the intentionality of this incident, but I’ll leave that alone for now. “Julia, let’s go get an ice pack, and the bat is going up for the day.”

“NOOOO!” Both children yell in unison.

Our civil justice system treats accidents differently than intentional acts, but our system is designed to limit future accidents by holding safety-rule violators accountable. That doesn’t always mean punishment, but it does mean compensation for the injured party. What type of justice would it be if I told Julia, “Well, it was just an accident, so no need for an ice pack.”? How can our system prevent this from happening again and again?

If you have questions about parenting, DO NOT contact me. But if you or a loved one have been injured and have questions about how our justice system handles your situation, I hope you’ll reach out.

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