explanation below

(sorry about the really bad drawing)

Two cars, A and B, are at an intersection. A is stopped at a stop sign; B is moving and does not have a stop sign. Across the intersection from B, there is a pedestrian in a crosswalk. The pedestrian cannot feasibly escape, and B does not appear to be stopping. B is far enough back that A could prevent them from hitting the pedestrian by pulling into the road. B is driving at a speed at which hitting a pedestrian would probably kill the pedestrian, but crashing into another car would probably not result in any fatalities. Is it legal for A to pull out in front of B, intentionally causing a relatively minor accident to avoid a fatal one? Is A at fault?

  • 4
    So you're asking about how the law handles trolley problems? Jul 29, 2022 at 7:17
  • The trolley problem usually is about a smaller or larger number of deaths, and action or inaction being relevant. Like I can act and one person dies, or I can not act and two people die.
    – gnasher729
    Jul 29, 2022 at 11:01
  • 2
    @gnasher729 this is just a trolley problem: pull the lever and a car crashes into another car; don't pull the lever and a car crashes into a pedestrian. More specifically this one is "should you push your car into the trolley's path to save 1 person?" Jul 29, 2022 at 16:10
  • 2
    Yeah, it's "should you destroy your own property and the property of a negligent driver to save a life." The obvious ethical answer is yes, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's legal.
    – Someone
    Jul 29, 2022 at 16:19
  • 1
    @Trish I added trolley-problem to those questions as well as this one
    – Someone
    Jul 29, 2022 at 18:07

1 Answer 1


Deliberately causing an accident is illegal. However, in some (probably many) jurisdictions there is a "necessity" defense against criminal charges. In Washington it goes like this:

Necessity is a defense to a charge of (fill in crime) if

(1) the defendant reasonably believed the commission of the crime was necessary to avoid or minimize a harm;

(2) harm sought to be avoided was greater than the harm resulting from a violation of the law;

(3) the threatened harm was not brought about by the defendant; and

(4) no reasonable legal alternative existed. The defendant has the burden of proving this defense by a preponderance of the evidence. Preponderance of the evidence means that you must be persuaded, considering all the evidence in the case, that it is more probably true than not true. If you find that the defendant has established this defense, it will be your duty to return a verdict of not guilty [as to this charge].

It is possible, if B is attempting to kill the pedestrian, that you have defense of others available as well.

  • So in this case, (1) intentionally blocking B's path is the only way to save the pedestrian, (2) doing so will probably only result in property damage, while not doing so will result in the pedestrian's death, (3) A was doing nothing wrong or unusual until this occurred, and (4) there was no other way to save the pedestrian, so A is innocent? What about liability?
    – Someone
    Jul 29, 2022 at 16:04
  • Assuming that you can prove your points (1-4). RCW 4.22.070 addresses the assignment of fault to parties, in the case of a lawsuit.
    – user6726
    Jul 29, 2022 at 16:29

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