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I am writing something about legal defences available to a defendant.

I would like to know if these two expressions (title) can in this case be synonyms and if one is more used than the other.

Context: The defendant will not be liable if they can show that the accident could not have been avoided by exercising ordinary care and skill.

Phrase: If the driver took all due care and precaution, before and while driving, they will not be liable: the accident was completely out of their hands / beyond their control.

I initially wrote “beyond their control”, but searching on Internet, I found that the first is more common than the second.

Nevertheless, the second sounds more natural to me.

P.S. I intentionally used the “singular they” (politically correct).

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4 Answers 4

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I would avoid the use of expressions and instead suggest you use a single word; inevasible, or unavoidable. Both words make strong statements which are not open to interpretation or confusion.

That being said; since it appears you have narrowed your choices to be one of only two colloquial expressions, I would agree with what appears to be the majority consensus to use "beyond their control" as you initially wrote.

Because your Context is "The defendant will not be liable if they can show that the accident could not have been avoided by exercising ordinary care and skill.", that writing with a more direct approach could be more effective for your argument.

Why not try to reword your "context"?

Examples:

  • "Even though my Client was exercising the same level of care and skill with which the average (defensive) driver possesses, the unfortunate outcome was inevasible/unavoidable."

  • "Because my Client possesses the same abilities as the average driver, the unfortunate outcome was unavoidable/inevasible."

  • "The average driver, placed in the same situation as my Client was, simply does not possess the skills needed to have avoided/evaded the outcome."

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  • "Inevasible" is a new word to me and, I expect, to many. Since "to evade" means excatly the same as "to avoid" in this context I think "unavoidable" is the better choice.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 19, 2021 at 6:01
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Farlex shows that out of one's hands isn't the right phrase to use in the context of an accident, but if, say, you have submitted a report about something to an authority, then the matter in question would be out of your hands.

Although Farlex does mention no longer in someone's control that is figurative, not literal. And if the car literally wasn't in the defendant's control, that could be a dangerous driving scenario, not an absolution of guilt – quite the opposite. It is the situation that was beyond your client's control: there was nothing that could be done. So

the accident was completely beyond their control

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    "Out of my hands" might be considered less formal than "beyond my control". Sep 17, 2021 at 17:43
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    'Out of my hands' at least strongly connotes 'in the hands of a higher (temporal) authority'; I wouldn't use it otherwise. Sep 17, 2021 at 18:01
  • To my manager: can you help me keep my job? Manager: it's out of my hands. (This could mean 'it's for HR/my boss/someone else to decide' or 'I'm firing you but I'm too much of a weasel to say so') Sep 17, 2021 at 22:41
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I think inevitable is a better substitute for you. That single word captures the essence of the phrase "out of one's hands".

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  • Saying an accident is inevitable means it could not be stopped by anyone; the question is looking for a phrase meaning it could not be stopped by a particular person. Something may be out of my hands, but someone else may be able to do something about it.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 17, 2021 at 19:26
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Given references from Merriam Webster.

Out of their hands:

used to say that one cannot control something

This can be interpreted as a defendant not being able to control something, but someone else might be able to. In this case, perhaps if the defendant were not negligent, or possessed some other authority or skill, the situation would be in their hands.

Beyond their control:

used to indicate that no intervention will help things

This clearly states that there is no longer any situation which the defendant, no matter what skill or preparedness they may have, cannot possibly gain control.

Given these definitions, beyond their control is apropos. Unless you're going against opposing counsel with a large budget and a judge with incredible patience, I suspect no one will distinguish between the two phrases.

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