North Carolina Court Of Appeals Allows Driver To Avoid Liability Through Doctrine Of Sudden Emergency

Author: Auger Law | May 10th, 2013

The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently handed down a decision in favor of a truck driver whose tractor trailer ran into a woman, causing her death. The truck driver was driving down the highway when he saw another person driving in his lane the wrong way. To avoid a head-on collision, he jerked on his wheel, hit the brakes, and collided with the deceased’s car instead.

torn tire and doctrine of sudden emergencyThe driver claimed he was not responsible for damages to the deceased’s estate under the doctrine of sudden emergency. The doctrine of sudden emergency can be used when a person is confronted with an emergency situation that causes an injury to another as a result of his or her actions during the emergency. If the person’s actions are what a “reasonable person” would do in the same situation, then they are not liable for the injuries of the other party. The Court in Marshall v. Williams, 153 N.C. App. 128, 131, 574 S.E.2d 1, 3 (2002) summarized the doctrine of emergency as one that “creates a less stringent standard of care for one who, through no fault of his own, is suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with imminent danger to himself or others.”

The lower court found that the truck driver owed no duty of care to the now-deceased driver as he was trying to avoid a head-on collision. The representative of the deceased’s estate disagreed and appealed. The representative argued that while the doctrine of sudden emergency applied, there were other actions the truck driver could have taken to avoid the collision. The representative took the position that the truck driver could have veered right instead of left and braked sooner. The Court of Appeals upheld the lower court’s ruling, determining that while that may be true, the doctrine of sudden emergency exists to preclude that type of hindsight.

The doctrine of sudden emergency can be used in any negligence action to limit or preclude the defendant’s liability. Generally in negligence actions, a duty is owed by the defendant to the plaintiff specific to the situation, whether it is driving safely, maintaining real property that others are invited to, or manufacturing safe products. If the defendant failed in maintaining that duty and that failure resulted in an injury or death, then the defendant may be found liable for damages like the medical costs or lost wages of the injured party. The doctrine of sudden emergency is a defense that can only be used in very specific circumstances, like the appellate case described above.

Injuries caused by accidents can result in great pain and financial hardship to the person injured and their family. Life can produce complicated situations, and it may be difficult to claim the compensation that one is entitled to because the fault or responsibility may be unclear. If you have been injured in an accident and need attorneys who understand your unique set of circumstances, call the North Carolina personal injury lawyers at Auger & Auger for a free, confidential consultation at (888) 487-0835.

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Posted In: Car Accidents, Truck Accidents