The Doctrine of Foreseeability: Auto Accidents & Accident Law

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An automobile accident can be a nightmare for all involved. However, when it happens out of the blue, you may have a significant worry, in addition to the pain and the medical bills: depending on the situation, if you are injured in a ‘freak’ accident, the defendant may wind up not being held liable as a result of the doctrine of foreseeability.

Foreseeability in Tort Law

Foreseeability is a core concept in tort law, especially in negligence. It generally speaks to the issue of proximate cause, which is one of the pillars that must be proven for a negligence case to be able to win in court. Proximate cause is defined as being the primary cause of an injury, even though it may not be the closest cause in time to the actual harm done to the plaintiff. The proximate cause of a plaintiff’s injury must be foreseeable. If it is not, the plaintiff cannot recover.

Common sense dictates that someone should not be held responsible for something they could not reasonably anticipate. In auto accidents, ‘reasonable’ events to anticipate might include someone running a stop sign, or wet weather affecting the grip of one’s tires on the road. Unforeseeable events would be more akin to, for example, lightning striking the road and cracking the pavement so cars are forced to swerve. In an extreme, something like that might come to someone’s mind, but legal foreseeability deals only with the extent to which something can be foreseen – that is, how far one can reasonably conjecture.

Subjective vs. Objective

In order to assess foreseeability in your case, you must ask two questions. Firstly, was the event in question – for example, a lightning strike in the middle of the road – foreseeable to the defendant? If it was, then you have a good case for establishing proximate cause. (If the event in question was foreseeable to the defendant, they ought to have taken steps to prevent it happening.)

If the event was not foreseeable to the defendant, you have to ask a second question – was it foreseeable to a reasonable person? If it was, the defendant may still be held liable, even if they did not personally foresee it. For example, if a defendant is texting and driving, they may not foresee an accident that stems from their not watching the road. However, an objective bystander would likely foresee that an accident was highly probable. Thus, the defendant could still be held liable. An unlikely risk is still foreseeable if there is any degree of likelihood.

The type of harm must also be foreseeable. If a pregnant woman trips while walking and lands on her backside, it is reasonable to assume she might suffer bruises or broken bones. It is not foreseeable that she might suffer a miscarriage. A general cause of action covering any and all manner of harm to a patient is simply not granted by the courts; the proverbial slippery slope toward universal liability would simply be too great.

Get Help In Your Auto Accident Case

If you or a loved one has been the victim of an auto accident, the car accident attorneys at Callihan & Syracuse can help. We have years of experience in accident law, and we work hard to get our clients what they are rightfully owed. Contact our North Charleston office today for a free consultation.