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Testing the Myth of the 80 Percent Rule of Accidents

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Does human error sink 8 out of 10 ships?

When it comes to maritime accidents, there is a common belief called the 80 percent rule, which holds that eight out of 10 maritime mishaps are the result of human error.

But is that statement true? Can it be statistically verified? What if any lessons can lawyers draw from it?

A new research study titled “Searching for the Origins of the 80 Percent Myth” answers the first two questions: (1) Not precisely and (2) No.

“Little evidence has been found within the reviewed sample of scholarly literature to support the popular 80 percent value,” write the lead researcher. “It must nevertheless be noted that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. Such evidence can exist outside the research sample used in the herein study. To this end, it appears that the figure has not been subject to a rigorous verification, and the phenomenon is far more complex than to be solved by such a straight-forward answer. Nevertheless, the 80% myth is still told on various occasions including scholarly publications, but as with other myths – its origins remain unclear. the research community can also ask itself a question if such a number can ever be calculated in the first place with sufficient accuracy?”

Every accident is different, the researchers found:

“Each accident comes as an effect of a different chain of events, or disruption of the different safety control structure, or any anomaly within whatever-concept-of-safety is applied – can an average of such anomalies be calculated? And why bothering quantifying such a complex social phenomenon using various and incomparable approaches instead of investigating how to fit the human element into a technical system so that both operate at their optimum, as postulated in recently developed system-theoretic approaches?”

Even though the researchers were unable to state with scientific accuracy the precise percentage of maritime accidents precipitated by human error, they found that most all accidents involved “human factors, human errors, human element, human judgment, and human sources.”

RISK MANAGEMENT TAKEAWAY: It always comes down to people.

How would you rate your general wellbeing? On most days, do you feel healthy, happy and capable? Or hurried, harried and worn out? Find out on Thursday, December 14 at 12 noon CT for our free, one-hour CLE webinar: “Take Control of Your Well-being.” This is the fourth annual installment of our popular Lawyer Wellness webinar. Back by popular demand as presenter is the sensational Colleen Byers, JD, a seasoned litigator, mediator, legal educator, certified yoga instructor, and 2020 North Carolina Lawyer of the Year. Colleen’s tips and encouragement will help you finish 2023 strong and start 2024 off right! Register here for “Take Control of Your Well-being.” Free! Just one of many benefits available to members of the Alta Pro Lawyers Risk Purchasing Group (RPG). Learn more here.


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In an age of consolidation where increasingly impersonal transactions have made customer service an oxymoron, we bring together independent agents, insurance companies, and other industry specific service providers to develop and deliver insurance products and risk management solutions that benefit our insurance customers.

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