In some cases, car accidents are just that: Accidents. That is, those involved didn’t intend for them to occur.
However, that doesn’t mean by-and-large they aren’t preventable. When drivers adhere to all traffic laws, safety signals and responsible behind-the-wheel behaviors, the risk of a crash decreases.
There are, however, those rare instances when drivers might be doing everything right, but circumstances beyond their control result in a collision. In cases where those circumstances amount to a “sudden emergency,” the civil courts have found it appropriate to limit liability.
Our Tampa injury lawyers know it’s important to understand the circumstances under which the “sudden emergency doctrine” is applicable in car accidents. The reality is, this defense is only valid in a small number of cases.
Of course, that certainly doesn’t stop defendants from trying to use it. Take for example the recent case of Wright v. Carroll, weighed by the Kentucky Supreme Court.
This was a truck accident case with which the lower courts struggled. It went to trial twice, though on the final appeal the state supreme court held the trial court should have issued a directed verdict in plaintiff’s favor, as the “sudden emergency doctrine” defense should never have been applied and the weight of the evidence supported her claim.
According to court records, defendant was a trucker, operating a tractor-trailer, who was approaching a blind curve closely followed by an intersection. The trucker knew this path well, as he’d traveled it a number of times in the past. Still, he testified that he did not expect vehicles to be stopped at the intersection after he rounded the curve.
He was surprised to find there were several vehicles stopped at a red light in his lane. In order to avoid a collision, he swerved and slammed on the brakes. He avoided striking the cars directly in front of him, but the trailer swung around and struck plaintiff’s vehicle, causing her to suffer severe leg injuries.
When she sued defendant and his employer (for vicarious liability), he asserted the sudden emergency doctrine defense. This defense argues that when circumstances outside of defense control occur rapidly, the individuals involved shouldn’t be held to the same level of care as those who are acting without the time pressure of an emergency situation. So in other words, a defendant faced with a split-second decision on how to avoid harm in a situation he didn’t create shouldn’t be held to the same standards of reasonable prudence as a driver who has time to contemplate his or her actions.
But here’s the problem with that defense in this case: The trucker couldn’t reasonably argue that vehicles lawfully stopped at an intersection constituted as a “sudden emergency” that he would have had no opportunity to avoid. Yes, it was a blind curve, but having traveled that route before repeatedly, he knew there was an intersection immediately following. Thus, the sudden emergency doctrine does not apply here, according to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
For the plaintiff, that means liability is not limited.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Wright v. Carroll, Oct. 23, 2014, Kentucky Supreme Court
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Mercury Casualty v. Chu – Auto Insurance Contrary to Public Policy, Oct. 16, 2014, Tampa Car Accident Lawyer Blog