Unavoidable Accidents

The law of negligence makes a defendant not liable for unavoidable or inevitable accident even when he/she has used less than due care.  An unavoidable accident is an incident that was not intended and which, under all the circumstances, could not have been anticipated or avoided by the exercise of reasonable precautions. An unavoidable accident can only happen in the absence of causal negligence. North Carolina courts have recognized and applied the term “unavoidable accident” to the following circumstances: a woman injured by a dog on a leash, children darting into the street, and defective brakes.

Normally, the owner of a dog is liable for the injuries suffered by the plaintiff if the dog is not restrained. The test of the liability of the owner of the dog is whether the owner should know from the dog’s past conduct that he is likely, if not restrained, to do an act from which a reasonable person, in the position of the owner, could foresee that an injury to the person or property of another would be likely to result. Therefore, the liability of the owner depends upon his negligence in failing to confine or restrain the dog. The facts regarding size, nature and habits of the dog, known to the owner, are to be taken into account in determining whether the owner was negligent.

Drivers or owners of motor vehicles are not liable for all the accidents in which the children are injured. If a driver of a motor vehicle could not reasonably foresee the presence of a child in the street, while he is proceeding along the street or highway in a lawful manner using ordinary and reasonable caution for the safety of others, he will not be held liable for striking the child. He is not required to anticipate the appearance of children in his pathway, under ordinary circumstances, from behind parked automobiles or other obstructions. Therefore, when a motor vehicle is proceeding upon a street at a lawful speed, and is obeying all the requirements of the law of the road and all the regulations for the operation of such machine, the driver is not generally liable for injuries received by a child who darts in front of the machine so suddenly that its driver cannot stop or otherwise avoid hitting him.

The mere fact that an accident occurred which results in personal injury, death, or property damages does not warrant a recovery against the owner or operator of the vehicle unless it is shown that the injury or damage was caused by the negligence of the operator. If a motorist has exercised ordinary care as required by law (or the highest degree of care as may be required) and has nevertheless inflicted injury on another, the accident is said to be inevitable, for which no liability attaches.

The North Carolina courts consider ‘unavoidable accidents’ and accidents due to ‘sudden emergencies’ differently. The external forces that have been found to create sudden emergencies include: automobile crossing the center line; a tire blowing out; a disabled vehicle partially blocking the road at night; and severe weather, such as dense fog and severe rain. An ‘unavoidable accident’ is an occurrence that was not intended and which, under all the circumstances, could not have been foreseen or prevented by the exercise of reasonable precautions.