How Being Careful May Help During an Auto Accident Lawsuit

We might be inclined to say most people are careful, or to say most people are careless.  Either implies we readily understand the words.  And yet a juror may find himself struggling when asked to assign fault – carelessness, negligence – in a personal injury case.

Personal injury law was developed to enforce personal responsibility for one’s actions and to increase personal safety in the community.  These aims of personal injury law are linked – when one knows they must be responsible for their choices, they think about how those choices can impact others, thereby increasing safety in the community.

Essentially, by holding people personally responsible for their actions, we are incentivizing people to make careful choices.  If they don’t make careful decisions, they must personal accept responsibility for the results.

So, what is the personal injury context of “being careful?”  Is it paying taxes?  Keeping driver’s license up to date?  They bundle up when it’s cold? 

Even though it is prudent to do these things, they are private actions, as in, “a person who looks out for himself.” 

Private things seem useless in gauging whether someone has been careless or negligent.  To be careful in a personal injury context, then, seemingly falls outside the realm of private acts that affect only oneself.  Being careful refers to how our actions impact the safety of those around us in the community.

The following is a description:

 “In describing a genuinely careful person, we have in mind that, whatever the situation in which she is acting, she foresees and takes responsibility for all affects her action might have on other people (and dogs and trees).”

A rule of warfare is do not prepare for what you think the enemy intends to do, prepare for everything he might do.

Conversely, it seems that the careful person takes responsibility for not only what they intend to do but for whatever effects their action might be capable of causing.

During the work of a trial, a juror is constantly learning.  Some of this learning is really a recollection of something known, such as the deeper meaning of the word careful, a meaning that refers to the public sphere.

Some people count an action as careful only when it is the safest option available.  Can anything less than the safest option be careful?  A good juror finds himself considering this during the course of a trial.

And it is not so complex of a notion.  It is immediately clear when we think of a doctor.  Because a doctor is capable of causing immense, unintended harm by the choices they make, the doctor weighs each decision a second and a third time.  She is bound by her Hippocratic Oath, first, do no harm – an oath that requires the safest means to an end.

A driver does not need to intend to do harm.  He may only intend to hurry. But what if a pedestrian is injured by a speeding driver?  In that action by the driver, we see no evidence he took into account the consequences of not choosing the safest option (driving the speed limit), and the amount of harm that might result.

But what if the pedestrian might not have been careful?  Let’s say it was at night, the pedestrian was wearing dark clothing, and he crossed in the middle of a block, not in a crosswalk.  How careful was he?  A jury will be asked to consider whether or not he was reasonably careful, too. 

Would it have been more careful to wear light clothing and to walk to a crosswalk?  But should he have had to do any of that – in order to avoid being struck and hurt?

The answer lies in the question, even with his actions the way they were, what harm was the pedestrian capable of doing anyone but himself? The pedestrian had estimated how long it would take to cross the road and knew that no car traveling the speed limit would be able to hit him.  Unlike the driver of the huge steel machine, the pedestrian could do no one else any harm – with his black clothing and choice of crossing point. These are all items that jurors, lawyers, and judges look at to determine auto accident cases.

In the end, it doesn’t matter who a juror is looking at.  The actions and choices made by those in a personal injury lawsuit will be evaluated by the potential impact to the community’s safety and the availability of safer alternatives.  Even with these guidelines, each juror will have a different perspective on what “careful” or “negligent” really is.  In theory, having 12 jurors, each with different ideas, make a decision on what is, or what isn’t “careful” or “negligent” constitutes the attitude of the community on the subject – the final say.



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