Sudden Emergency Doctrine is Kinda BS, but Kinda Not

You’re driving down the road.  KAZOW!  A deer leaps in front of you.  You slam on brakes.  So does the chap behind you, but he hits you anyway.  He’s liable, right?

Not necessarily.

The Sudden Emergency Doctrine is a defense to negligence claims for people who, “through no fault of their own, are suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with imminent danger to himself or others” and is compelled to act instantly.  In those situations, even if the person doesn’t make the best decision possible, they might not be found liable.

The doctrine has good intentions. If you’re on the other end of this, it makes more sense…let’s say you were driving on the highway at 65 mph (when that’s the limit, of course) and a truck loses a 3000 pound pipe.  You swerve to avoid it and run into someone else.  Hey, you swerved into someone, so that’s your bad, right?  Well, that looks like a Sudden Emergency to me, and you didn’t cause it, so you’re probably not at fault!

I get it.  Stuff happens, and sometimes the person we think should be held liable really shouldn’t be.  But as with all things created by man, this doctrine can be misused by insurance companies.  So watch it!

Cases where there might be a Sudden Emergency defense should be handled carefully.  If you have a situation that this might fit into, please call me!  919-929-2992.

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Jeffrey Allen Howard, Attorney at Law, PLLC
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