• Legis Scriptor

Inevitable Accident

Authored By- Aishwarya Bhat NS

Keywords- Unavoidable Accident, Strict Liability, Reasonable Care, Caution.


Inevitable accident is one of the general defences available to the defendant to escape from his liability. This article covers the origin, definition, case laws, the present-day position of the inevitable accident, and factors to it. An inevitable accident is an unavoidable accident that cannot be prevented by reasonable care and caution.


General defences are used to evict those defendants from tortious liability who have been unfairly imposed with wrong claims. Inevitable accident is one of the general defences in tort law. Inevitable accidents also work as a defence of negligence. Inevitable accidents are those accidents that could not be prevented by the exercise of reasonable care, caution, and skill. They are also known as unavoidable accidents.

History of the origin of inevitable accident:

The doctrine of unavoidable accident has its origin in the early history of the English common law. Originally as per the common law, an injured plaintiff was entitled to recovery when he could show that the act of the defendant was the cause of his injury. The law then progressed to where the defendant would be absolved of liability if he could show that the injury was a result of an accident or an unavoidable accident. Subsequent to this development, the common law courts began to hold that the defendant would be liable to a plaintiff who was injured by the defendant’s act, only if, the defendant had intentionally injured the plaintiff or had acted in a negligent manner towards the plaintiff. The Courts came to apply the doctrine of the fault principle of liability. The Courts in England and the US still recognize the doctrine of unavoidable accident.[i]

In the pre-nineteenth century cases, the defence of inevitable accident used to be essentially relevant in action for trespass, when the old rule was that even a faultless trespass contact was actionable unless the defendant could show that the accident was inevitable. For long a time, the onus of proof in trespass upon a person rested with the defendant. Therefore, the trespass offered the scope to the defence of inevitable accident. However, now the courts observe that the burden lies with the claimant for trespass as well as for negligence.

Therefore, inevitable accident has no place in these cases because the burden is on the claimant to establish the defendant’s negligence. But, the rule does not follow if the claimant has no such burden hence making it irrelevant.

In Whitelock v. Wherwell [i], the complaint in Whitelock was unusual because the plaintiff, rather than just reciting that the defendant had hit him with force and arms, also alleged that the defendant had controlled the horse so negligently and improvidently, that it knocked him down. The defendant conceded that the horse had knocked down the plaintiff, but pleaded that the plaintiff’s fall was against the will of the defendant. The defendant went on to explain that he had hired the horse without notice of its habits that it ran away with him as soon as he mounted it. And that he could in no way stop the horse although he used all his strength and power to control it. It was a plea of the inevitable accident in the case of a latent defect. The collision may have been avoidable, but it had become inevitable by virtue of the defendant’s negligence and was thus not held to be an accident.[ii]

Definition of Inevitable Accident:

According to Charlesworth “There is no inevitable accident unless the defendant can prove that something happened over which he had no control and the effect of which he could not have avoided by the exercise of care and skill.”[iii]

According to Frederick Pollock “An inevitable accident as an accident is not avoidable by any such precaution as a reasonable man, doing such an act then there, could be expected to take.”[iv]

Factors that determine an inevitable accident:

-Whether the said event was outside the control or not?

-Whether in the said event, there was a scope to avoid inevitable accidents through the exercise of reasonable care and caution?

-Whether the said event was inevitable or not?

Present-day position of inevitable accident as a defence:

Inevitable accident practically has lost all its utility. The ambit of an inevitable accident as a defence has shrunk majorly. The plea of inevitable accident has now substantially lost its utility. Since the principle of strict liability applies even in the absence of negligence on the part of the defendant, with the growth of scientific knowledge the number of accidents that can be termed as inevitable is fast dismissing. However, the rules are little different for those inevitable accidents that involve nature’s intervention[v]

In the case of Stanley vs Powell[2], the plaintiff was employed to carry cartridge for a shooting party when they had gone pheasant shooting. A member of the party fired at a distance but the bullet, after hitting a tree, rebounded into the plaintiff’s eye. When the plaintiff sued it was held that the defendant was not held liable in the light of the circumstances of an inevitable accident.

In the case of, A.Krishna Patra vs Orissa State Electricity Board[3]the Court held an inevitable accident as an event which happens not only without the concurrence of the will of the man, but in spite of all efforts on his part to prevent it.


The inevitable accident is an event that happens not only without the concurrence of the will of a man but in spite of all efforts that a man may put on his part to prevent it from happening. It is an accident which is physically unavoidable and can’t be prevented by human skill or foresight.

[1] 43 Emory L.J.575, pg (610) [2] (1891) 1 QB 86. [3] AIR 1997 Ori 109