Court Addresses Applicability of California Sudden Emergency Doctrine in Car Accident Lawsuit

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in a lawsuit stemming from a fatal California car accident. The record indicates that the victim was driving around 70 miles per hour on a highway in the same lane as the defendant. The defendant saw a car stopped in the middle of the highway in front of him and moved over to pass the stopped vehicle. When the defendant was about 300 feet past the car, he saw the victim’s car collide with the stopped vehicle. The collision caused the victim’s car to leave the lane it was in, colliding with another vehicle. The defendant saw the accident in his rear-view mirror, and called 911.

The victim’s representative filed a complaint against several parties, including the driver of the stopped car, the driver of the car that hit the victim, the owner of the stopped vehicle, and the owner of the vehicle that hit the victim. Sometime after the original complaint, the plaintiff added the defendant as a party, reasoning that the defendant’s late lane change prevented the victim from noticing the vehicle stopped in the middle of the road. In response, the defendant cited California’s sudden emergency doctrine. The trial court agreed that the doctrine provided the defendant with a complete defense, and the plaintiff appealed.

California’s “sudden emergency” or “imminent peril” doctrine protects defendants from liability in a negligence lawsuit. It typically applies when a defendant, who was otherwise acting with reasonable care, is suddenly and unexpectedly faced with an emergency that the defendant did not cause. To prevail on this defense, a defendant must establish three main elements. A defendant must prove that the events arose when there was a sudden emergency where someone was in actual or imminent injury, the defendant did not cause the emergency, and the defendant acted with due care, even if an alternative action was safer.

In this case, the trial court determined that the defendant met his burden for establishing a sudden emergency. Although the facts in the case are undisputed, the parties disagree on the applicability of the doctrine. The defendant argues that the emergency was the stopped car. In contrast, the plaintiff argues the emergency was the victim’s inability to see the car until it was too late because of the defendant’s sudden lane change. The court agreed with the defendant’s reasoning that the doctrine applies to the relevant facts surrounding the alleged negligent person’s conduct; the doctrine excuses that person’s conduct. The court further explained that the dangerous situation the defendant created for anyone else is irrelevant. Instead, the relevant emergency is the one the defendant faced.

Have You Suffered Injuries in a California Car Accident?

If you or someone you know has suffered injuries in a California car accident, contact the attorneys at the Sharifi Firm, APC. The experienced attorneys at our office have an extensive history of successfully resolving personal injury cases in our client’s favor. Through our representation, our clients have recovered substantial amounts of compensation for the injuries they suffered in car, truck, and motorcycle accidents, as well as from defective products, slip and falls, and incidents of medical malpractice. Contact our office at 866-422-7222 to schedule a free initial consultation with an attorney at our law firm.

Contact Information