Sudden Emergency: ROBINSON V. LANSFORD (COA 10/27/2006)

TORTS:  Sudden Emergency Doctrine (not sudden occurrence)

DATE RENDERED: 10/27/2006

The COA found the granting of a sudden emergency instruction was not proper.  The defendant Lansford was following Robinson in traffic on the interstate.  The cars were slowing down as folks were "rubber necking" to watch car off to the side from an accident, when the claimant Robinson stopped abruptly in front of Lansford who testified he was 3 to 4 car lengths behind the plaintiff and did not have sufficient warning to  avoid striking her.

Although there was sufficient evidence to deny the directed verdict on liability, the giving of a sudden emergency instruction:

All of these duties of Defendant being subject, however, to this qualification that if immediately before the accident
Plaintiff’s automobile suddenly and unexpectedly came to a stop in front of Defendant’s automobile, and if the emergency presented was not caused or brought about by
any failure by Defendant with his duties as  Defendant was required to exercise only such care as the jury would expect an ordinarily prudent person to exercise under the same conditions or circumstances.

The common-law doctrine of ‘sudden emergency’ attempts to explain to a jury how to judge the allegedly negligent conduct of a person, plaintiff or defendant, who is suddenly confronted with an emergency situation that allows no time for deliberation.  The doctrine should be applied if it changes or modifies a duty that would have been incumbent upon a plaintiff or defendant in the absence of the emergency.

This case did not present a sudden emergency, only a sudden occurrence as the evidence does not indicate that Lansford took any action as a result of encountering an emergency, such as swerving into another lane of traffic or running onto the shoulder or median of the roadway.

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