The sudden emergency defense, or "emergency doctrine," is the affirmative tort defense that the defendant was faced with an unexpected and sudden situation which demanded immediate response. This defense is a complete defense: if the jury believes the defendant acted reasonably during the emergency, the defendant is not liable for the accident at all.
The elements required for the use of the sudden emergency doctrine are:
- Sudden and unexpected situation
- Defendant did not cause said situation
- Defendant acted reasonably during the situation
As stated above, a sudden emergency is a sudden and unexpected situation. "Unexpected" is the key phrase. If the defendant could have predicted the situation would occur, the defense does not apply. For this reason, weather conditions, such as icy roads or sun glares, are not sudden emergencies.
Emergencies might be, but are not limited to: children running into the street, unexpected pedestrians, or even untied bikinis.
Most states utilize the emergency doctrine, although some states are beginning to abolish the doctrine. For instance, in 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court declared that Colorado would no longer be following the emergency doctrine. The Court aborted the doctrine because it believed that the doctrine was confusing and redundant. Since Colorado uses comparative negligence, the emergency doctrine was less useful. It is unknown if other comparative negligence states will follow Colorado’s example.
Although the sudden emergency doctrine does not seem complicated, its application in certain cases can be unexpected. More importantly, the emergency doctrine may change in response to future cases. A qualified personal injury attorney in your area will be able to explain whether the doctrine applies to your case.