Hit Brakes Early and Avoid a Tort

Jim doesn't see a stop sign. When he doesn't stop, the worst happens: Another car is coming and CRUNCH, an accident. Fortunately, no one is hurt, but there is extensive damage to the other drivers car.

You probably know that Jim would be responsible for the accident. (He wont have to pay for the damage because of his insurance, though his insurance rates are likely to rise.) What is the legal reason that Jim is held responsible for the accident?

Jim's liability for the accident falls under the general heading of the law of torts. There are two basic types of torts: First, there are intentional torts. If Jim beat up and injured someone in a bar without just cause (self-defense, etc.), he might be arrested on a criminal change. However, he would also be liable to pay his victim damages in a civil suit under tort law. The tort is intentional in such a case simply because the law-breaker, Jim, intended to do the unlawful act.

The second type of tort case involves accidents. The person doesn't intend to harm anyone but causes the accident nonetheless. Car accidents are a good example of these sorts of torts, though any accident might be a tort. If a window washer accidentally dropped a pail on Jim's head as he was walking down the street, Jim could sue.

However, not all accidents are torts. How does the law decide when someone is responsible for an accident?

Under Canadian law you can be liable for injury caused to anyone around you if you are negligent; that is, if your act which caused the injury was such that a reasonable person would have foreseen that a person in the victims place might be hurt.

In the case of a window washer dropping a pail, it is not necessary that he could foresee the accident happening exactly as it did. If his scaffolding was wobbly, and none of his equipment was secure, it is enough if the window washer should have been able to foresee the types of possible accidents. As well, it doesn't have to be foreseeable that it would be Jim who was walking on the sidewalk below. Any pedestrian would be covered.

Are you likely to ever be sued for a tort? Hopefully not an intentional tort. However, you should make sure you have adequate insurance in place to cover you, just in case.