How Does The Emergency Doctrine Work In Negligence Cases?

How Does The Emergency Doctrine Work In Negligence Cases? By Stavros E. Sitinas {Time to read: 3:25 mins} The emergency doctrine is a defense that, if allowed by a judge, may be asserted in a personal injury negligence case to absolve a negligent driver of all civil liability. The defense may be used if it can be shown that the defendant driver is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance, which is not of his or her own making and leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation or consideration.

Ultimately, if faced with an “emergency” circumstance, the driver may be absolved of liability, even if his/her actions were not the most prudent, but were reasonable, in the context of the emergency.

Some examples of how this often comes into play in real cases:

  • A child runs into the middle of the street, you slam on your breaks and somebody hits you in the rear and sustains injuries, next they sue you for negligently slamming on your brakes. You can argue that the emergency doctrine applies because you were faced with a sudden and unexpected situation of a child appearing suddenly in the path of your vehicle.
  • A motorcyclist is traveling down the road and loses control of his bike. He is ejected directly into the path of your car and you have no time to react and unfortunately strike him. You may be absolved of any liability under the emergency doctrine because the emergency at issue, the motorcyclist losing control of his bike, was not of your creation; since he was flung directly into the path of your vehicle, there was nothing you could do to avoid hitting him.

The important thing to remember about the emergency doctrine is that you cannot claim it all the time. It is truly reserved for extreme and sudden occurrences, not every ordinary accident that happens. Here is an example of a case where a defendant unsuccessfully tried to invoke the emergency doctrine, but was rebuked by the court:

  • A defendant tried to argue that sun glare caused him to not see clearly for a few seconds, during which time he struck a pedestrian crossing the street. The court found that this case didn’t meet the criteria of the emergency doctrine because sunlight is not unexpected, nor is it an emergency. At certain times of day the sun is closer to the horizon and drivers in New York are expected to know this and wear sunglasses.

Given the complexity of asserting the emergency doctrine, choosing the right attorney to represent you is the most important thing you can do to shield yourself from an unfair civil suit. For a free, no obligation evaluation of your circumstances, call 212-539-1800.

Misconceptions About Frivolous Lawsuits And The McDonald’s “Hot Coffee” Case

Stavros E. Sitinas, Esq.
(212) 539-1800

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