Does the Sudden Emergency Doctrine Apply to Car Accidents?

No one starts their day off wanting to be involved in an accident. Nevertheless, thousands of accidents happen every single day. Sometimes the cause of these accidents is negligence of another person, our own negligence, or even an event that is out of our control. When an event is outside of our control, there is a legal principle that can apply.

The sudden emergency doctrine is a legal principle that states a person will not be held liable for his or her actions when those actions arise out of an emergency situation. Negligent actions will be “forgiven” when they are the result of an emergency. This doctrine is important to understand, regardless of whether you are the plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit. Plaintiffs will want to be aware of the defenses that the defendant will raise during a lawsuit. Defendants will want to know every defense that may be applicable to their own case.

Sudden Emergency in Virginia

In Vahdat v. Holland, a court in Virginia examined the sudden emergency doctrine in the context of a car accident. The driver claimed that he blacked out because of diabetes while driving. The court stated that “when the driver of an automobile, without prior negligence on his part, is confronted with a sudden emergency and acts as an ordinarily prudent person would have done under the same or similar circumstances, he is not guilty of negligence.” The sudden emergency doctrine is an instruction to the jury to determine whether the driver’s actions were warranted.

There have been many court cases that have examined the sudden emergency doctrine in relation to a car accident. The use of the sudden emergency doctrine is not always successful. There have been incidents in which the doctrine was upheld and not upheld. The following are a few instances where the sudden emergency doctrine was argued.

  • Weather: In Herr v. Wheeler, the defendant’s vehicle started to hydroplane during a heavy rainstorm. Standing water on the road is not a sudden emergency, but instead a common incident that other drivers on the road would face. The doctrine did not apply. Heavy snow storms may also be a situation in which the doctrine could apply.
  • Medical emergencies: A passenger to the vehicle having a sudden emergency could be a potential instance in which the doctrine applies. An emergency to the driver could also trigger the doctrine, but it depends on the circumstances.
  • Road Obstructions: If there is a sudden obstruction on the road, like an animal or sudden tree fall, the sudden emergency doctrine might be introduced.

The attorneys at Greg Baker Attorneys at Law, PLLC are here to help you. Whether your actions caused an accident and you want to know if the sudden emergency doctrine might apply, or you were injured in a car accident, our attorneys are here to help. We know that accidents can be devastating, regardless of the side you are on. We want to help you overcome any legal battles that arise out of a car accident, including the sudden emergency doctrine’s applicability. Contact us today for a free consultation.