Accidents happen

Accident: Noun; 1: An unforeseen and unplanned event or circumstance.

There it is—the official definition of an oft misconstrued word. This is the first definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and it is the root definition upon which all others are based. There are two very important words in that definition: Unforeseen and Unplanned. These are the words that seem to confuse people.

Can you take every eventuality into account when planning any given activity? Think about going camping. I like camping. I tried to go every year at least once. I have spent a fortune on camping gear including tents, sleeping bags, lanterns, coolers and the like. In fact, when I was younger, I didn’t even take those things when camping. I liked “roughing it” with nothing but my clothes and some food in a cooler. I didn’t plan anything. I just took off on a weekend, slept on the ground, cooked on a fire from kindling and had a ball getting dirty. At my age now, I need an inflatable mattress under a plush sleeping bag, and give me a Coleman stove to cook my food. Oh, and I need a power outlet to charge the phone, netbook and ipod. And it can’t be too far from a bathroom. All this requires meticulous planning and scheduling.

When I was roughing it, I occasionally injured myself. Maybe I burned my hand holding the skillet too close to the fire. Maybe I sliced my finger cutting open a package of wieners. Maybe I stabbed my hand with a fish hook. It doesn’t matter, really, what happened. The point is that something always happens. The issues I had when I was roughing it, somehow still happen when I camp with all the “proper” camping equipment, or even with careful planning. I still cut my hand, or stab my finger, or burn myself.

These are not planned. They just happen in the natural course of events. I didn’t say as I started cooking: “Step one: start fire

Step two: remove package of wieners from cooler

Step three: cut into package with knife

Step four: slice open hand 2 inches long and ¼ inch deep

It was unplanned. It was unforeseen. It was an accident. But still, it happened and it was unfortunate. And by golly, someone has to pay! Not me, mind you. No I think it should be someone else that pays, and pays me plenty. I wonder how much I can get. Why, that hotdog package maker should have known I would cut my hand trying to open that vault made of plastic. The knife manufacturer should have a warning laser-etched into the blade about not using this knife to actually try and cut something.

It all boils down to personal responsibility. People have somehow come to the conclusion that if something bad happens, it has to be someone else’s fault. And if it someone else’s fault, how much money can I get from them? But think about it…whose fault is it really? If I buy a cup of coffee at a drive through, shouldn’t I expect that, if I spill that coffee on my lap, I might get burned? If I run the sharp edge of a knife along my hand, wouldn’t it make sense that I will cut myself?

Two young people are riding in a car. The driver has a driver’s license having passed that state’s required exam to demonstrate proficiency behind the wheel. The driver decides to attempt to drive on two wheels like he saw in a movie, so he drives up a handicap ramp. The car flips over and rolls down an embankment. The passenger was killed in the wreck. The parents of the slain youth sue the property owners for not taking adequate precautions to prevent the wreck. And the saddest part of this story is not the death of the youth. It is not the survivor having to deal with the guilt at having caused the death of his friend. No folks, the saddest part of the story is that the parents of the slain youth won the lawsuit.

Now, I will admit that I have not checked all 50 states’ driving exams or curricula, but somehow I doubt there is a section addressing how to properly use a handicap ramp to perform stunt driving. Also, it seems unlikely that the engineers who designed handicap ramps accounted for this application of the ramp. Now, I am no judge, but I think the fault lies with one person and one person alone: The street cleaner who left the banana peel on the handicap ramp. Surely it must be his fault. Sue him.

It was an accident that should not have happened, but it did. It happened through individual negligence and bad judgment. This accounts for the second definition in Merriam Webster: an unfortunate event resulting especially from carelessness or ignorance. The third definition soon follows: an unexpected happening causing loss or injury which is not due to any fault or misconduct on the part of the injured, but for which legal relief may be sought.

This is where we get confused. We try to assign fault to unforeseen and unfortunate events. Folks, go back to definition number one. It clearly states unforeseen. Sometimes, there is no fault. A plane strikes a bird in mid-air and that bird falls to the ground striking a pedestrian on the head, causing paralysis. Should the pilot be sued? Can you honestly say that there was any way a pilot could have foreseen that bird, or even if he did, could he have known that bird would fall on that particular spot and hit that person? It was an accident. Take your lumps and get on with life.

My hand healed from both the cut and the burn. I learned something those experiences: keep the sharp edge pointed away from you and don’t touch a hot pan. Have I cut myself since? Yes. Have I burned myself since? Yes. Will I do either or both again in the future? More than likely. Should I sue someone? How much do you think I can get?

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