By Hon. (Ret.) Ken E. Adair
Negligence Doesn’t Happen In a Vacuum
Video Transcribed: I left the Navy in 1984, after six years of active duty service and serving on two Navy destroyers. I worked in electronics and then I went to the private sector and worked on industrial process control systems and sheet factory processes, like extruded plastics, paper mills, primarily on another type of sheet processes.
But a paper mill is one of the most dangerous places you’ll ever see, you’ll ever work. There are so many things that can kill you just by sticking your finger in and part of what they called the gap or the nip of a calender stack or a there’s so many pulleys and ropes and chains that are going fast. And I had to work amongst that.
And I always noticed the signs at the end of the factory. They said, “Safety is no accident. Safety is no accident.” And I’ve thought about that all these years. And when I became a lawyer and I saw that we would keep calling collisions or incidents, we’d call them accidents.
And yet safety is no accident. And we refer to auto accidents, or we have a code in some of our paperwork at my law firm when we refer to MVA. Well, we’ve taken that out of our vocabulary and we call them MBC, motor vehicle collision because it was a collision, but it was not an accident. It doesn’t mean the person didn’t… It doesn’t mean the person acted with actual malice or deliberation to cause the collision.
But the tortfeasor, the defendant in an auto collision case or any other kind of negligence case made an affirmative decision to do something, whether it was to not pay attention, whether it was to drive too fast or whether it was to put on makeup while they’re driving or to drink a milkshake or fiddle with the radio or fiddle with the air conditioner knobs or to drive fatigued or to drive under the influence of alcohol or some other drug. Some conscious affirmative decision was made by the wrongdoer, the negligent person. Negligence doesn’t just happen in a vacuum.
And I’ve done another video about mayhem and these ads that try to suggest at great expense to the insurance companies, to the jury panel, and everybody’s jury panel comes from a group of people that have every one of them have seen one of these mayhem commercials, if they haven’t seen a hundred of them and mayhem is just the notion that sometimes stuff just happens. We’ve all seen the bumper sticker, but safety is no accident. Get that drilled into your own mind. Get the accident out of your vernacular, out of your vocabulary.
And talk about negligence in terms of an affirmative decision to do something or an affirmative decision to not do something that violates the contract that we have with each other. I’ll be safe. You are safe. And if I’m safe and you’re safe, we will both get where we’re supposed to go safely and uninjured.
If there are an injury and a car wreck, somebody was negligent and it wasn’t an accident. It was the result of a conscious decision. I suggest that you remind yourself of that often. I still use the word accident sometimes, but I try to correct myself every time and say collision or incident. It’s not an accident. Negligence is never an accident. It’s a breach of duty, which requires some affirmative decision on somebody’s behalf. I hope this has been helpful. I hope you can use this and incorporate this into your practice
And in your day-to-day conversations. It would be helpful to you to use that terminology in your day-to-day conversations, so you don’t slip up in front of a jury and start calling this an accident, an accident. It’s just an accident. Stuff happens. It’s just mayhem. Don’t lean into that punch. There is a punch and it’s coming, and you’ve probably already experienced it if you’ve tried any cases. So it’s nice talking to you. This has been trial attorney Ken Adair. If you are looking for co-counsel services or an experienced jury consultant, visit trial.win.