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.