Inevitable Accident: Definition and Meaning

Under tort law, the doctrine of "inevitable accident" is a well-established general defense that disavows responsibility. Its roots are in the early common law system of England. An accident is considered "inevitable" if it could not have been prevented using common sense caution, prudence, and skill. An unavoidable accident, according to Sir Frederick Pollock, is one that "cannot be avoided by any such precautions as a reasonable man, doing such an act, could be expected to take."

In other words, it alludes to an accident that the defendant could not have avoided even if he had shown the kind and level of caution that the urgency and the Situation demanded.

Meaning of Inevitable Accident

When harm is caused while carrying out a proper conduct, done with all reasonable care, for whatever unavoidable reason, and as a result, the damage does not give rise to a cause of action, the defense of "inevitable accident" is possible. It is one of the many common defenses available to the defendant under tort law and is founded on the idea that they will not be held responsible if the plaintiff was damaged despite the defendants' lack of malicious intent.

Essentials of Inevitable Accident

The following requirements must be satisfied in order to assert the tort defense of "inevitable accident" −

  • There must be an accident

  • The accident must be unexpected, unintended, and unavoidable; and care, caution, and skill as would be reasonable under the circumstances must have been used.

  • As a result, there must not have been any negligence on the side of the person, and another person must have suffered suffering, injury, damage, or loss as a result.

Limitations of Inevitable Accident

The following torts and tort law principle(s) are excluded from the defense of inevitable accident, which places significant restrictions on their use −


In trespass situations, the argument of inevitable accident is inadmissible. This is so that the plaintiff, and not the defendant, bears the burden of proof.

Principle of Strict Liability

In situations when there is absolute liability, the "inevitable accident" defense has no place. This is because strict responsibility is unaffected by factors such as carelessness, purpose to commit the conduct, knowledge of the wrongdoing, and so forth. In this situation, culpability is solely based on the possibility of serious harm to others, which cannot be prevented, not even by taking reasonable precautions.


Similar to trespass, the argument of an unavoidable accident is inadmissible in negligence proceedings. This is so that the plaintiff is not left with the task of showing the defendant's negligence.

Types of Inevitable Accident in Tort

All accident-related causes can be divided into two groups −

  • The term "act of God" is used to describe those that are brought about by the fundamental forces of nature apart from human agency or other causes.

  • Those that are entirely or partially the result of human agency, whether by deeds of commission or omission, misdeeds or inactions, or through any other causes unrelated to the action of natural forces.

Case Laws

Holmes v. Mather

In this instance the defendant's groom was leading a pair of horses down a public street. The sound of a dog barking set the horses off running pretty quickly. The groom made every effort to manage them, but he was unsuccessful. The plaintiff was pushed down by the horses and suffered serious injuries; it was decided that the accident could not have been prevented and that the defendant was not at fault.

Brown v. Kendall

The case's facts were that both defendant Kendall and plaintiff Brown owned dogs. One day, their dogs suddenly began to fight. Kendall grabbed a big stick and started whacking the dogs to get them apart. Brown maintained a secure distance from the fighting. As the hounds advanced toward him, Brown moved away from them and toward Kendall's back. Kendall was unaware of Brown's motion.

Again, raising his stick, Kendall unintentionally struck Brown in the eye with his backswing. Kendall caused Brown significant harm. Kendall was sued by Brown for violence and assault. As it was merely an unavoidable accident, it was determined that there was no reason for action.

Shridhar Tiwari v. U.P. State Road Transport Corporation

In this instance, a U.P.S.R.T.C. bus arrived close to a village where a cyclist unexpectedly crossed in front of the vehicle. Because it was raining heavily, the driver was unable to stop the vehicle even after applying the brakes, and as a result, the bus's rear ended collided with a bus that was traveling in the opposite direction.

It was determined that neither of the drivers was careless and that they took all reasonable precautions to avoid the incident. It was decided that this was going to happen. The defendant was declared not responsible.

Hidasi v. Hidasi

The defendant in this case employed all reasonable care and precautions while driving on a slick road, yet the car lost balance, skidded, hit a barrier, and wounded the plaintiff. The court decided in the defendant's favor. The court accepted the defendant's argument that he had no control over or foreseeability over the mechanical issue with the car that resulted in the slide.

Vedantacharya v. Highways Deptt. of South Arcot

The Apex court ruled that an accident would only constitute an inevitable accident in this case if the defendant was not negligent. In the present case, a bus was passing over a culvert when, regrettably, the culvert gave way and the bus fell into the stream. This incident resulted in the death of one bus passenger. There was a claim of negligence made against the defendants.

The Highway Department argued that the accident was an "inevitable accident" since there had been severe rain for the previous 15 days, there had been more than 6 inches of rain the day before the accident, and rainwater had entered the culvert at an extremely high velocity, causing it to collapse. The Engineer's Report, which noted that the culvert was sound the day before and that regular traffic had passed through it, provided the foundation for the Madras High Court's conclusion that it was an unavoidable accident.

The Supreme Court overturned this ruling and ruled that the Highways Department was still liable for the accident even though it was allegedly caused by heavy rain and flooding because they had failed to take the necessary precautions and proactive measures to strengthen the bridges against such weather conditions. The defendants were therefore found responsible.


In tort law, an inevitable accident is a general defense that shields the defendant from responsibility for an unforeseen event when there was prudent use of skill, care, and judgment on their part and no evidence of malice or negligence.


Q1. What is the difference between inevitable accident and act of God?

Ans. The primary distinction between an inevitable accident and a divine act is that the former is brought about by human initiative, whilst the latter is brought about by the power of nature. Act of God is the genus and inevitable accident is the species.

Q2. How to distinguish between private defence and inevitable accident?

Ans. In a situation of necessity, the victim of the harm is an innocent person, whereas in a case of private defense, the plaintiff is the one who committed the crime. In cases of need, the harm is done on purpose, however in cases of inescapable accidents, the harm is nevertheless produced despite best efforts to prevent it.

Q3. What do you mean by Private Defence?

Ans. In order to defend oneself, one can utilize this defense to avoid being held accountable for harming the other party. It must be established that the party was being attacked or threatened by the other party in order for private defense to be applicable.

Updated on: 11-Apr-2023

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