Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Seattle Personal Injury Attorney Chris Thayer
Handling Personal Injury Claims in the Seattle Area and Throughout Washington Since 1995

My name is Chris Thayer and I am a personal injury attorney practicing in downtown Seattle. I handle personal injury, medical malpractice and wrongful death claims throughout the greater Seattle area, including Issaquah, Mercer Island and Kirkland.

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The Sudden Emergency Doctrine

Posted Friday, September 7, 2018 by Chris Thayer

Alternative TextSome accidents are caused by negligence, but other accidents are out of our control, happening because of our response to sudden emergencies. Or at least that is what a personal injury defendant might argue when the injured plaintiff files a lawsuit against him or her. Conversely, the injured plaintiff can invoke the sudden emergency doctrine to argue that he or she is not partially at fault for his or her own injuries.

There is a legal principle called the sudden emergency doctrine that says people are not liable when their otherwise negligent actions stemmed from an emergency situation. This is an important doctrine for plaintiffs to understand, since it might prevent them from recovering damages or ensure they recover full compensation for their injuries.

*What is the Sudden Emergency Doctrine?*According to the Washington State Supreme Court Committee on Jury Instructions:

“A person who is suddenly confronted by an emergency through no negligence of his or her own and who is compelled to decide instantly how to avoid injury and who makes such a choice as a reasonably careful person placed in such a position might make, is not negligent even though it is not the wisest choice.”

For example, imagine that a car passenger suddenly has a heart attack. The driver speeds through a light just as it is turning red, in an attempt to get to the emergency room faster. The driver slams into a vehicle that has just legally entered the intersection. A jury could conclude that the driver’s decision to run the light was reasonable given the emergency situation.

*Other Examples of Sudden Emergencies*In the 1970s, a motorcyclist and school bus collided on a curvy, hilly road. The motorcyclist filed a personal injury lawsuit claiming that the bus driver was responsible for his injuries. The motorcyclist lost at trial, but on appeal, the court said that the sudden emergency doctrine may apply. Specifically, the jury should have considered whether the bus illegally crossed into the oncoming lane, causing the motorcyclist to swerve and crash into the bus. Swerving to avoid a vehicle that has drifted into your lane is an example of a sudden emergency.

In 2009, the Washington Supreme Court considered the application of the sudden emergency doctrine to an accident involving a motorcycle and a deer. To make a long story short, the motorcycle driver could not avoid crashing into a deer that suddenly ran into the road. The motorcycle’s passenger was injured and sued the driver for injuries. The court agreed that there was sufficient evidence for the jury to consider this a sudden emergency.

While many sudden emergencies arrive in the context of car accidents, there are other situations where this doctrine comes up. An experienced attorney can help prepare an effective litigation strategy if a sudden emergency is a factor in your case.

*Contact Us Today*Contact one of our personal injury attorneys today for a free consultation if you are injured by someone’s negligent conduct. Our experienced attorneys will prepare for any defenses that might be used against you, including the sudden emergency doctrine. We will help recover the compensation that you deserve, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

(image courtesy of Deva Darshan)