Tort Law

Unavoidable Accident Cases

This page within Virginia Tort Case Law is a compilation of unavoidable accident cases reported by the Virginia Supreme Court and summarized by Brien Roche dealing with the topic of Unavoidable Accident. 

1996 Harrah v. Washington, 252 Va. 285, 477 S.E.2d 281.

Multi-vehicle accident on foggy roadway. Trial court gave unavoidable accident instruction. Defendants argue that if there are non-parties who are negligent in connection with accident, then party defendant may invoke unavoidable accident doctrine to establish that defendant’s freedom from fault. Few motor vehicle collisions occur without fault. Unavoidable accident instruction is rarely appropriate in such cases.

1995 Gardner v. Phipps, 250 Va. 256, 462 S.E.2d 91.

Unavoidable accident instruction is rarely to be given in auto cases. As defendant descended snow-covered roadway, he lost control of vehicle. Before accident, he had seen tracks of other vehicles that had negotiated the hill without incident. Error to give unavoidable accident instruction.

1993 Galbraith v. Flemming, 245 Va. 173, 427 S.E.2d 187.

Auto accident. It is rarely permissible to give unavoidable accident instruction in auto accident case. Instructions should not be given unless evidence supports reasonable theory that accident could have occurred notwithstanding exercise of due care by parties involved.

1991 Greater Richmond Transit Co. v. Wilkerson, 242 Va. 65, 406 S.E.2d 28.

Bus began to roll even though brake and interlock system had allegedly been engaged. Bus company showed that before accident, an engaged parking brake and interlock system inexplicably failed to hold another bus in its parked position. In spite of this, bus company never showed what precautions were taken thereafter to avoid similar occurrence. Under these circumstances, it was not error to deny instruction on unavoidable accident.

1990 Chodorov v. Eley, 239 Va. 528, 391 S.E.2d 68.

Rear-end accident. Rarely permissible to give this instruction in auto case. This instruction permissible only where ordinary care and diligence could not have prevented the accident. This accident could have been prevented.

1980 Marshall v. Goughnour, 221 Va. 265, 269 S.E.2d 801.

This defense rarely applies in auto accident cases. Unless evidence supports reasonable theory that accident occurred without negligence, it is error to give unavoidable accident instruction.

1979 Damron v. Hagy, 220 Va. 455, 258 S.E.2d 517.

Unavoidable accident is one which occurred without negligence of parties. Rarely applicable.

1975 Bickley v. Farmer, 215 Va. 484, 211 S.E.2d 66.

Few automobile accidents occur without fault and occasion for use of unavoidable accident instruction is rare. Since there is no reasonable theory of evidence that accident could have occurred without negligence on part of one or both defendants, error to grant unavoidable accident instruction.

1972 Batts v. Capps, 213 Va. 174; 191 S.E.2d 227.

Accident at uncontrolled intersection where view partially obstructed by high hedge. Evidence showed that driver of truck and driver of automobile both proceeded to drive blindly into intersection. Error to give unavoidable accident instruction; occasion for use of unavoidable accident instruction is rare.

1968 Holbert v. Evans, 209 Va. 210, 163 S.E.2d 187.

Defendant proceeding at lawful speed; as she passed bushes that had obstructed her view, she observed children playing on her left. Defendant slowed down, was watching children when plaintiff four years old suddenly ran in front of her vehicle. Despite her slamming on brakes and turning to right, defendant still struck child. Not error to give unavoidable accident instruction. Unavoidable accident is one occurring in absence of negligence upon part of all parties charged with negligence.

1963 Barner v. Whitehead, 204 Va. 634, 133 S.E.2d 283.

Defendant not liable if he could not avoid accident in exercise of ordinary care. Instruction to this effect is technically not unavoidable accident instruction.

1961 Simmons v. Adams, 202 Va. 926, 121 S.E.2d 379.

Rear-ender involving alleged brake failure. Jury should have been instructed on unavoidable accident.

1960 Cooper v. Pickett, 202 Va. 65, 116 S.E.2d 52.

Tire blowout case. Fact that ordinary care and diligence could not have prevented accident is not sufficient to justify unavoidable accident instruction. This is more appropriately covered by instructing jury that there must be showing of negligence on part of defendant.

1958 Mawyer v. Thomas, 199 Va. 897, 103 S.E.2d 217.

Criterion of existence of unavoidable accident is absence of negligence upon part of all parties charged therewith.

1957 Smith v. Tatum, 199 Va. 85, 97 S.E.2d 820.

Defendant was student driver in automobile where decedent was licensed operator. Car went out of control. Unavoidable accident instruction inappropriate since accident was due to negligence of decedent and/or defendant.

1955 Matthews v. Hicks, 197 Va. 112, 87 S.E.2d 629.

No error committed in refusing instruction on unavoidable accident where only evidence as to cause of injury showed that it resulted from human fault.

1950 Frazier v. Conner, 191 Va. 481, 61 S.E.2d 880.

Intersection collision. Defendant’s car unexpectedly entered arterial highway from secondary road. Court gave instruction on unavoidable accident. Both sides objected. Held: error. Evidence plainly showed that case was one of negligence.

1945 Stephens v. VEPCO, 184 Va. 94, 34 S.E.2d 374.

Accident which is unavoidable will not be basis for recovery.