ACCIDENT - Black's Law Dictionary

What is ACCIDENT? Definition of ACCIDENT in Black's Law Dictionary

The word "accident"  is  derived from the Latin verb "accidere" signifying "fall upon, befall, happen, chance." In an etymological sense anything that happens may be said to be an accident and in this sense, the word has been defined as befalling; a change; a happening; an incident; an occurrence or event. In its most commonly accepted meaning, or in its ordinary or popular sense, the word may be defined as meaning a fortuitous circumstance, event, or happening, an event happening without any human agency, or if happening wholly or partly through human agency, an event which under the circumstances is unusual and unexpected by the person to whom it happens; an unusual, fortuitous, unexpected, unforeseen or unlooked for event, happening or occurrence; an unusual or unexpected result attending the operation or performance of a usual or necessary act or event; chance or contingency; fortune; mishap; some sudden and unexpected event taking place without expectation, upon the instant, rather than something which continues, progresses or develops; something happening by chance; something unforeseen, unexpected, unusual, extraordinary or phenominal, taking place not according to the usual course of things or events, out of the range of ordinary calculations; that which exists or occurs abnormally, or an uncommon occurrence; the word may be employed as denoting a calamity, casualty, catastrophe, disaster, an undesirable or unfortunate happening; any unexpected personal injury resulting from any unlooked for mishap or occurrence; any unpleasant or unfortunate occurrence, that causes injury, loss, suffering or death; some untoward occurrence aside from the usual course of events. Adams v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 136 Pa.Super. 454, 7 A.2d 544, 547; without known or assignable cause, Ramsay v. Sullivan Mining Co., 51 Idaho 366, 6 P.2d 856, 858.

In its proper use the term excludes negligence; Dallas Ry. & Terminal Co. v. Allen, Tex.Civ.App., 43 S.W.2d 165, 170; that is, an accident is an event which occurs without the fault, carelessness, or want of proper circumspection of the person affected, or which could not have been avoided by the use of that kind and degree of care necessary to the exigency and in the circumstances in which he was placed. Brown v. Kendall, 6 Cush. (Mass.) 292; essential requirement being that happening be one to which human fault does not contribute, Hogan v. Kansas City Public Service Co., 322 Mo. 1103, 19 S.W.2d 707, 713, 65 A.L.R. 129; happening of an event without any human agency, Terry V. Woodmen Accident Co., 225 Mo.App. 1223, 34 S.W.2d 163, 164. It has been said, moreover, that the word "accident" does not have a settled legal signification; Klopfenstein v. Union Traction Co., 112 Kan. 770, 212 P. 1097, 1098; and that in its ordinary meaning it does not negative the idea of negligence on the part of the person whose physical act caused the occurrence. Campbell v. Jones, 73 Wash. 688, 132 P. 635, 636. Not merely inevitable casualty or the act of providence, or what is technically called vis major. or irresistible force. Gardner v. State, 1 N.Y. S.2d 994, 997, 166 Misc. 113.

See Act of God.


The word "accident" as used in automobile liability policy requiring notice of any "accident" to be given to the insurer as a condition precedent to liability means an untoward and unforeseen occurrence in the operation of the automobile which results in injury to the person or property of another. Ohio Casualty Ins. Co. v. Marr, C.C. A.Okl., 98 F.2d 973, 975.

Connotes event which occurs without one's foresight or expectation, and does not exclude negligence. American Indemnity Co. v. Jamison, Tex.Civ.App., 62 S.W.2d 197; without intention or design, Rothman v. Metropolitan Casualty Ins. Co., 134 Ohio St. 241, 16 N.E.2d 417, 421, 117 A. L. R. 1169.

The word "accident", requiring operator of vehicle  to stop immediately in case of accident, contemplates any situation occurring on the highway wherein he so operates his automobile as to cause injury to the property or person of another using the same highway. State v. Masters, 10G W.Va. 46, 144 S.E. 718, 719.


Such an unforeseen event, misfortune, loss, act, or omission as is not the result of any negligence or misconduct in the party. Engler v. Knoblaugh, 131 Mo.App. 481, 110 S.W. 16.

Unforeseen and undesigned event, productive of disadvantage. Wharton. Surprise is used interchangeably. State ex rel. Hartley v. Innes, 137 Mo.App. 420, 118 S.W. 1168.

Occurrence, not the result of negligence or misconduct of the party seeking relief in relation to a contract, as was not anticipated by the parties when the same was entered into, and which gives an undue advantage to one of them over another in a court of law. White & Hamilton Lumber Co. v. Foster, 157 Ga. 493, 122 S.E. 29, 30.

Insurance Contracts

An accident within accident insurance policies is an event happening without any human agency, or, if happening through such agency, an event which, under circumstances, is unusual and not expected by the person to whom it happens. Sizemore v. National Casualty Co., 108 W.Va. 550, 151 S.E. 841.

Sudden and instant happening, referable to definite and fixed period of time. Jackson v. Employers'  Liability  Assur. Corporation, 248 N.Y.S. 207, 210, 139 Misc. 686.

May be inflicted intentionally and  maliciously  by  one not the agent of the insured, if unintentional on the part of the insured. Goodwin v. Continental Casualty Co., 175 Okl. 469, 53 P.2d 241, 243.

A more comprehensive term than "negligence," and in its common signification the word means an unexpected happening without intention or design. Sontag  v.  Galer, 279 Mass. 309, 181 N.E. 182, 183.

Accidental' injury or death is an unintended and undesigned result arising from acts done, while injury or death by "accidental means" is a result arising from acts unintentionally done. Adams v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 136 Pa.Super. 454, 7 A.2d 544, 547.

Maritime Law and Marine Insurance "Accidents of navigation" or "accidents of the

sea" are such as are peculiar to the sea or to usual navigation or the action of the elements, which do not happen by the intervention of man, and are not to be' avoided by the exercise of proper prudence, foresight, and skill. The G. R. Booth, 19 S.Ct. 9, 171 U.S. 450, 43 L.Ed. 234. See also Perils of the Sea.


That which ordinary prudence could not have guarded against. Cupples v. Zupan, 35 Idaho 458, 207 P. 328, 329. An event happening unexpectedly and without fault; an undesigned and unforeseen occurrence of an afflictive or unfortunate character; a casualty or mishap. Allen V. State, 13 Okl.Cr. 533, 165 P. 748; Baird v. Kensal Light & Power Co., 246 N.W. 279, 282, 63 N.D. 88; drunkenness of juror during recess required discharge of jury. Fetty v. State, 119 Neb. 619, 230 N.W. 440, 442.

Workmen's Compensation

Term "accident," within Workmen's Compensation Act, has been defined as a befalling; an event that takes place without one's foresight or expectation; an undesigned, sudden, and unexpected event; chance; contingency; often, an undesigned and unforeseen occurrence of an afflictive or unfortunate character; casualty; mishap; as, to die by an accident. Its synonyms are chance, contingency, mishap, mischance, misfortune, disaster, calamity, catastrophe. Term "accidental" has been defined as happening by chance, or unexpectedly; taking place not according to the usual course of  things;  casual;  fortuitous;  as, an accidental visit. Its synonyms are undesigned, unintended, chance, unforeseen, unexpected, unpremeditated; accessory, collateral, secondary,. subordinate; extrinsic, extraneous, additional, adscititious, dependent, conditional. Indian Territory Illuminating Oil Co. v. Williams, 157 Okl. 80, 10 P.2d 1093, 1094.

With or without negligence. Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. v. Sexton, 242 Ky. 266, 46 S.W.2d 87, 88.

Not technical legal term. Arquin v. Industrial Commission, 349 Ill. 220, 181 N.E. 613, 614.


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