Let's consider this case.

John and Bill works together for apartment reparation in 10th floor. John unintentionally put big heavy hammer near the open window, after 5 minutes Bill accidentally (unintentionally) hit this hammer and it fall down from 10th floor and killed somebody.

Both of them went to court. Let's say we have ideal case. Everybody accept this story. There is no doubt that it was accident. John confirm, yes, I unintentionally put hammer near windows, Bill confirm yes, I accidentally (unintentionally) hit hammer and it fall down.

Theoretically if John would not put this hammer near the window, Bill would not drop it down and nobody would be killed. In this sense John is guilty.

From other side if Bill would be more careful and would not drop this hammer also nobody would not be killed. In this sense Bill is guilty.

My question: If it is classified as "Negligent homicide", What normal judge in Western World will decide about this case? Who is guilty and who will go to jail? John, Bill or both?

If both are guilty, will they have the same responsibility, like 5 years in jail for john and 5 years in jail for Bill or Bill will get more?


If it is difficult with criminal-law, let's say hammer fall down to the car and let's assume nobody has insurance. Who will pay for the car reparation in this case? John, Bill or both? and if both, each will pay 50% or different?

  • You're going to have to name a specific jurisdiction. It's not clear to me that either of them has committed any crime at all. All the criminal homicide laws I know require that the accused had some sort of mens rea (evil intent), or at least a high level of negligence which I am not sure is met here. Accidentally causing a death isn't necessarily a crime. Nov 2, 2016 at 22:12
  • @NateEldredge: Well, many jurisdictions do have the crime of injury (or death) by negligence. In Germany it's "fahrlässige Körperverletzung / Tötung", in the US Model Penal Code it's "negligent homicide" (though there does not seem to be something like "injury by negligence").
    – sleske
    Oct 19, 2018 at 10:26

2 Answers 2


Assume that this happened in Washington state. Under RCW 9A.32.070, the crime of second degree manslaughter occurs

when, with criminal negligence, he or she causes the death of another person.

RCW 9A.08.010(d) defines criminal negligence:

A person is criminally negligent or acts with criminal negligence when he or she fails to be aware of a substantial risk that a wrongful act may occur and his or her failure to be aware of such substantial risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise in the same situation.

I don't understand the claim that John unintentionally put the hammer near the window. If he put the hammer on the floor below the window, then Bill can't unintentionally hit the hammer and cause it to fly out the window. Let's suppose you mean that John put the hammer on the ledge of the open window unthinkingly. Bill doesn't see the hammer and accidentally knocks it off the ledge when he backs up and his butt hits the hammer. Only John is criminally negligent: he is negligent, and any reasonable person would know that it was a risky thing to do. John did an act knowingly and voluntarily, just not having an evil intent. John can't plead that he happened to have no clue about the effect of falling hammers – the law doesn't care about his personal knowledge, it cares about what a reasonable person would know. Now, if Bill was tossing a tennis ball at the hammer to see if the ball would bounce back into the room, or some other lame reason, then Bill is also criminally negligent.

The point is that saying "I didn't intend this particular outcome" is not relevant. You don't have to have any bad intent at all, when it comes to negligent homicide. You just have to be sufficiently incautious, so that you have not just deviated from the standard of care that everybody owes everybody else, you have done so grossly. This is a judgment made by the fact-finders, and depends on the totality of circumstances.

Criminal penalties aren't "divided". In Washington, they could both get 10 years and $20,000 – though the judge could decide that John deserves a bigger penalty because he is a bigger bonehead.

  • Very good answer. You are right. I mean that John put the hammer on the ledge of the open window unthinkingly. and you are right, and yes, I mean "Bill's butt hits the hammer". Is it relevant, that if Bill would not hit hammer, nothing would happens and this is why Bill is responsible too or it does not matter at all? Also if John put hammer not unthinkingly, but he put it just for a few seconds temporary with intention to take it away after a few second, but during these few seconds he got mobile call and forgot about this hammer. Will it be the same decision or completely different?
    – Zlelik
    Nov 2, 2016 at 23:07
  • The "if not for Bill's butt" defense would get him nowhere. The calculation is based on wrongful acts, and John's initial act is wrongful. It doesn't matter if the next step is Bill's non-wrongful butt or an earthquake. The best we can do for John is suppose he is only balancing the hammer on the ledge for 1 second, intending to maintain control, and he has a heart attack and lets go of the hammer. Then, maybe, it wouldn't be gross negligence.
    – user6726
    Nov 2, 2016 at 23:46
  • Well, very good explanation again :) but Bill should take care of his butt. If he sits on somebody's head, because he did not see the person sleeping on the bench on the street and kill this person. Will it be sleeping person's fault and not Bill's, because he should not sleep on the bench? P.S. looks like I ask to much. Sorry :)
    – Zlelik
    Nov 3, 2016 at 0:08

It is doubtful this would be a criminal matter unless you could establish some level of intent to harm someone, or you would have to show that at least Bill or John had to know their actions could or would lead to harm and willfully disregarded it.

That's not to say there couldn't be a civil suit by the survivors of the victim, in which case vicarious liability could leave both John and Bill to share responsibility for the accident.

  • Thanks for clarification. I thought that there is responsibility called "Negligent homicide" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negligent_homicide), it is not big, but it is a crime. Maybe I am wrong and it is not a crime. If it is difficult with crime, let's say hammer fall down to the car and let's assume nobody has insurance. Who will pay for the car reparation in this case? John, Bill or both? and if both, each will pay 50% or different?
    – Zlelik
    Nov 2, 2016 at 22:35
  • If there will be share responsibility for the accident, it will be divided as 50/50 or Bill will have to pay more, because he really drop this hammer?
    – Zlelik
    Nov 2, 2016 at 22:38
  • In lawsuits like that, part of the court's responsibility is to assign the amount of responsibility for each party. Sometimes even the plaintiff is assigned some responsibility too, which lessens the liability of the party being sued. For example, if John or Bill had put a sign on the sidewalk warning of construction above and the person killed by the hammer ignored it and walked down the sidewalk anyway, it's possible the court would say the victim shares some of the responsibility for the accident. The court has to decide how important each person's actions were to the outcome. Nov 2, 2016 at 22:43
  • Thanks for your opinion. But what if they did not put any warning sign and it was just a case with broken car, as I mentioned above? How should be responsibility distributed by your opinion, if you would be a Judge in this case? 50/50 or different?
    – Zlelik
    Nov 2, 2016 at 22:51
  • I think if it were a case of something being purely accidental, I wouldn't make anyone responsible. Bad things happen no matter how hard people try to avoid them, and to me, saying someone is responsible is saying they did something wrong, which I don't believe is the case here. Nov 2, 2016 at 23:38

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .