“Sudden Emergency” Defense in Auto Accident

Date: April 9, 2010
Posted In: DLP Law

Sarah was traveling south on Main Street in Honesdale in the left hand lane. Suddenly, a vehicle being driven by an out-of-state driver came out of 9th Street and made an illegal turn to the right, as if to head north on Main Street. It seemed like a fraction of a second before the two vehicles collided head on. Sarah sustained a serious injury to her back and neck as a result of the collision and eventually brought suit against the out-of-state driver.

The attorney for the out-of-state driver argued that Sarah was comparatively negligent in causing the accident because had she simply pulled over into the right hand lane, she may well have avoided the accident or, at least, avoided the head-on collision.

Issue: Will Sarah be held to be at fault to any degree in this accident?

Answer: In all likelihood, not. There exists in Pennsylvania a doctrine referred to as the “Sudden Emergency Doctrine.” This doctrine stands for the principle that when an individual or, in this case a driver, is confronted with a sudden emergency caused by the negligence of another, that somebody like Sarah is not held to the same standard of care as a driver would be who would have a more significant time to respond to the emergency. Sarah was confronted with a situation wherein she was presented with an immediate threat of danger. Her failure to do exactly what she should have done under the circumstances, which would have been to try to move over, will be excused. In all likelihood, she will receive 100% of whatever damages are awarded to her.

Disclaimer: The above article is for instructive purposes only and each case is fact sensitive. Consultation with an attorney should be obtained instead of reliance upon the legal issues discussed in this column.

Tom Cummings
Thomas P. Cummings has been a Partner with Dougherty Leventhal & Price, LLP since 1996 and has been with the firm since 1991. He focuses his practice on workers’ compensation, Social Security Disability and personal injury cases.