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Accident: Frequency (The Law of Averages)

Errors of judgment on the probability of an event are usually incorrigible. In short, even evidence that we are wrong will not persuade us that we are wrong in making a judgment as to whether something is or was probable or not. This is a serious problem. If we remain unaffected by evidence we are very unlikely to seek the advice or opinion of a statistician or other expert to help us estimate the probability of an event.

Road traffic accidents are common, but we rarely witness them happening. If we made a judgment of their frequency based on our experience, we would be wrong.

The title to the post is a tongue-in-cheek reference to “law” as in “law blog” and is, generally, a solecism.

The “law” is a reference to a common error. If we see a roulette wheel or some other random generator device favour red five times in sequence, we believe that the chance of it showing black, the alternative, on the next spin is greater than it showing red. For most people, this is a harmless error, excepting compulsive gamblers and property developers.

The courts, however, engage in exactly this exercise when they decide if something was or was not foreseeable. Clearly, evidence that something is common will secure a judgment that it was foreseeable, but an absence of evidence of the frequency of an event is not itself a basis to infer the frequency of an event; it is evidence of its being overlooked. The overlooking may be by the parties to litigation, or their lawyers, or it may be by the State or statisticians generally.

What is the likelihood of suffering injury from systemic failure in the Irish health system? Not very high, but not a remote possibility either.

We should remember what the statistics from the Personal injuries Assessment Board show us; Road Traffic Accidents are the major source by far of personal injury in Ireland. Even though PIAB does not assess medical negligence claims, such claims would never exceed the Road Traffic claims in frequency.

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