California Supreme Court Explains Sudden Emergency Doctrine in California Car Accident Case

Motorists have a responsibility to drive carefully, and also to respond to dangerous situations in a reasonable manner. In a recent California personal injury case, the court explained what the “sudden emergency doctrine” is and how it may be applied to excuse a motorist’s reaction to a sudden, unexpected event.

In that case, a man was injured when his car was rear-ended by the defendant’s tractor-trailer. The tractor-trailer had been in the far-right lane when three cars were using a ramp to enter the freeway in front of the tractor-trailer. A car in front of the plaintiff’s car reported that another black car was tailgating her and driving recklessly and passed her on the ramp while making an obscene gesture. The black car then suddenly braked, the cars behind it to slam on the brakes. The tractor-trailer saw the cars stop but could not stop or get around them before hitting the plaintiff’s car.

The plaintiff sued the tractor-trailer driver and his employer for negligence. The trial court found the defendants were not liable due to the sudden emergency doctrine, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Sudden Emergency Doctrine

The sudden emergency doctrine, also known as the imminent peril doctrine, may protect a defendant from liability in a negligence case. It applies when a defendant who is acting with reasonable care is suddenly and unexpectedly confronted by an emergency that the defendant did not cause. A defendant must prove: 1) there was a sudden and unexpected emergency in which someone was in actual or apparent danger of immediate injury; 2) the defendant did not cause the emergency; and 3) the defendant acted as a reasonably careful person would have acted, even if an alternate action may have been safer.

The Court’s Decision

The court found that the sudden emergency doctrine applied in this case. First, it found that the black car suddenly braked in front of the plaintiff’s car, causing a chain-reaction of  slowing cars on the highway onramp. This, the court determined, was a sudden and unexpected emergency. Second, the court explained that the defendant did not cause the emergency. Third, the court found that the defendant acted as a reasonably careful person would have acted in similar circumstances, because he slowed down, and because he had the right of way as the other cars were merging onto the freeway.

The court explained that a driver who lawfully has the right of way is not required to foresee incidents of road rage, and is not required to foresee that cars merging on a highway onramp will unsafely merge and then slam on the brakes in front of another driver. Therefore, the defendant was not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

Seeking Legal Guidance After a Crash

If you have been injured in a California car accident, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. At the Sharifi Firm, our injury attorneys provide dedicated representation to Los Angeles residents who have been injured due to the negligence of others. We handle all types of accident cases, including those arising from motor vehicle collisions, slip and falls, nursing home abuse, and wrongful death. We can fight tirelessly for the compensation that you need so that you and your family can focus on the physical and emotional healing process. Contact the Sharifi Firm at 1-866-422-7222 or via our online form for a free consultation.

More Blog Posts:

How Fault Is Apportioned in California Motorcycle Accidents, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, May 29, 2018

Questions Emerge About Liability in Self-Driving Car Crashes in California, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 25, 2018

Contact Information