A normal, average day in the life of a character. They go about their business as usual... but then they turn a corner and get taken out by a bus, or stop to tie their shoe, which delays them long enough that they're in perfect position to get squashed by the proverbial falling piano. The point is, the reason they die is simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time by sheer bad luck.
A big (but not foolproof) way to tell if this trope is in play is if a character dies because of some change they made in their daily routine; they took a different route to work just to change things up and die in a car crash, or decide to try a new restaurant and get killed in a robbery. Another possibility is that the character didn't go out, but was instead killed by some calamity that hit their house, such as a plane crash (bonus points if said calamity only hit their house). The critical element is that the only reason the victim dies is because random happenstance dictated they would be in the line of fire, so to speak. It's not this trope if an outside force (be it God, Fate, Death, another character, or anything else), actively and knowingly maneuvers the victim toward their demise.
This doesn't mean the death has to be due to an accident; if a character takes a wrong turn, ends up in a bad part of town, and gets murdered in a carjacking, that's this trope, but if they were lured there and then killed by the same people who did the luring, it's not. A literal version of this trope (such as a serial killer who decides to kill or spare his victims based on a dice toss) could be another way for non-accidental deaths to be involved.
This trope is also not about metaphorical deaths, like a character "dying" in a video game due to bad luck. Only actual deaths are allowed here.
Note that the person who gets killed does not necessarily have to be the only victim.
Inverse of Serendipitous Survival, where luck or chance means a character survives by avoiding a dangerous location. A possible form of Diabolus ex Machina and You Can't Fight Fate, though neither has to be present for this trope to work. May also be a component of Dropped a Bridge on Him and Life Will Kill You. Closely related to but distinct from Necro Non Sequitur, since this trope doesn't require a series of convoluted events.
As a Death Trope, expect unmarked spoilers!
- Two-Face's modus operandi is the use of a coin flip to determine his actions, which can include whether to murder someone or not. Depending on the Writer, he can play this trope straight or invoke it if he doesn't like the initial outcome.
- In Year Five #18 of Injustice: Gods Among Us, Bizarro is flying while carrying Trickster. All of a sudden, Bizarro sneezes... and uses both hands to cover his mouth, causing him to drop Trickster, who lands on a mountain and dies.
- A literal example occurs in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Oogie Boogie has Sally and Santa Claus tied up and lying on a tilting platform before a fiendish deathtrap. Oogie rolls a pair of dice to determine how much he will tilt the platform to send his victims to their doom. The dice come up "snake eyes," which wouldn't tilt the platform enough to be deadly. Oogie then invokes this by pounding the table to jiggle the dice to a new number, eleven. With wicked delight, Oogie Boogie begins cranking... and then the trope is subverted since Sally and Santa are rescued.
- Double-subverted in Ghost Town. Frank dodges out of the way of a falling air conditioner... by unknowingly jumping into the street, where he promptly gets hit by a bus.
- Two-Face in The Dark Knight uses his coin toss solely to determine whether those responsible for his kidnapping and disfigurement live or die.
- In Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, residents of Bartertown must "face the wheel" if they "bust a deal", i.e. break a vow. The wheel is divided into ten unequal sections (Death, Hard Labour, Acquittal, Gulag, Aunty's Choice, Spin Again, Forfeit Goods, Underworld, Amputation, Life Imprisonment) and is spun to determine the person's fate. Max faces the wheel after he refuses to kill his opponent in the titular Thunderdome, receiving Gulag, a fatal sentence (banned to the desert without water). Subverted, however, since Max is subsequently rescued.
- No Country for Old Men:
- Anton Chigurh uses a coin toss to decide whether to kill or spare certain people.
- When Chigurh escapes the police station, he stops a driver on a highway to kill him and steal his car. The poor guy just happened to be the only one on the road.
- Llewellyn flags down a motorist on an otherwise deserted street while running from Chigurh; the driver dies when Chigurh shoots at them.
- Foxface in The Hunger Games dies not at the hand of another Tribute, but because she just happened to eat poisonous berries.
- This trope gets discussed in The Bridge of San Luis Rey, as a major element of the novel is the question of whether the people who were killed in the collapse of the titular bridge were there by chance or by providence.
- One episode of CSI involved a woman who died by gunshot. During the course of the investigation, the team discovers that on the complete other side of town, a man had been target shooting in his backyard at the time of the death. It turns out that he had fired into the air, and the bullet had arced all the way into the victim's backyard, where she just happened to be at the time.
- In Seinfeld, Susan dies from being poisoned after licking too many stamps, specifically because those particular stamps were cheap. Had the stamps been higher quality or had Susan not licked them all (and had instead used, say, a sponge), she would've lived.
- In Pushing Daisies, a caveat of Ned's resurrection power is that if he brings someone back for more than one minute, another life must be exchanged for the one brought back. This only affects the immediate area and appears to be completely random.
- Sam on Quantum Leap once leaped into a piano player at a lounge. Shortly after he leaped in, a waiter asks him for his car keys so he can drive a drunken patron home. Sam readily hands them over, a move the waiter claims is unlike the piano player. After the waiter goes out to the car, Al appears and tells Sam who he's leaped into. Just after Al informs Sam he was supposed to die around that time, there's an explosion from the parking lot. The trope applies to the waiter and patron, not Sam.
- Generally speaking, this can be literal in these types of games. For the Player Characters, that is.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- This was pretty common in pre-4E for first-level Player Characters, since their meager Hit Points and saving throw bonuses meant that any unlucky dice roll during play could be potentially lethal before they ever had enough resources to even contemplate resurrection.
- Post-4E has literal "death saving throws", basically determining whether or not an unconscious character lives or dies. Three successful throws, you're stabilized. Three failures... you get the idea.
- There are, unfortunately, many examples of people being killed by objects falling from buildings as they're walking on the sidewalk, from debris to construction equipment to snow to even other people. Had these folks been one second slower or faster, they probably would've lived.
- Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie survived their initial assassination attempt (via a bomb thrown in their car), but later that same day they decided to visit the hospital where victims of the first attack were being treated, sharing a car with Governor Potiorek. However, their driver took a wrong turn and tried to reverse, but the engine stalled. Right in front of a café where of one of the assassins was enjoying a sandwich. The assassin still had a loaded pistol from his previous attempt and fired twice. Franz was hit in the neck and Sophie in the chest, fatally wounding both (the trope applies even more to Sophie, as at his trial, the assassin claimed the second shot was aimed at the Governor).
- In 2010, a man went jogging on an otherwise deserted beach in South Carolina. Like many joggers, he was listening to his iPod at the time... meaning he couldn't hear that a plane was making an emergency landing right behind him. To make matters worse, the whole reason the plane was landing was because it had lost a propeller, causing oil to get smeared all over the windshield, meaning the pilot couldn't see the jogger. Needless to say, the jogger was struck and killed.
- A hospital worker was killed in 2004 when the door to the autoclave she was doing maintenance on happened to close by accident, activating the autoclave and scalding the worker to death.
- A woman in Las Vegas died when she stepped in a puddle that was covering a metal plate in the street. The plate had become electrified due to loose wiring. The specific reason given for her death was that she was wearing flip-flops, which provided far less insulation than closed shoes would have.
- Isadora Duncan, a dancer from the early 20th century, was killed when a long scarf she was wearing became caught around a wheel of a car she was riding in, throwing her from the vehicle and breaking her neck.