In almost all motor vehicle accident cases, the courts in Florida recognize that drivers owe a duty to all other road users to exercise reasonable care in the operation of that vehicle. However, there are some narrow instances in which the rules are flexed. One of those is the “sudden emergency doctrine.”
The courts have recognized that a driver who is confronted with an emergency isn’t held to the same standard of conduct that would normally be applied to someone who is not in that same situation. This lesser standard of care may be applied when the driver, through no fault of his own, is suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with imminent danger to himself or others. But not every unexpected occurrence is to be considered a “sudden emergency.” For example, motor vehicle drivers have to be prepared for the appearance of obstacles, persons or other vehicles on highways and at intersections. The fact that a driver is surprised by one of these conditions isn’t necessarily a “sudden emergency.”
This was the argument of plaintiff in Tidd v. Kroshus, recently before the North Dakota Supreme Court.
The lawsuit stemmed from a bicycle accident in which plaintiff was riding on the sidewalk and defendant was approaching the street from an alleyway.
Both parties had different versions of material facts in the case.
According to plaintiff’s version:
She was riding her bicycle on the sidewalk after dark. The area was well-lit, there were lights on her bicycle, she was wearing a bright-colored jacket equipped with reflectors. She testified she was listening to her iPod with headphones, and therefore didn’t hear defendant’s car approach. But neither did she see it. She said he pulled out from the alley and struck her as she was riding.
But according to defendant:
The area was dark, so his headlights were on. He stopped his vehicle in the alley prior to approaching the sidewalk. Buildings on either side of the alley made it impossible to see anyone on either side of the sidewalk so he crept toward the intersection. He was looking left, moving slowly when the collision occurred. He stated he did not see plaintiff prior to the crash, and the bicycle had no lights. He immediately stopped his vehicle.
Plaintiff suffered injury and sued defendant for compensation. The case went to trial, and before handing the matter over to a jury, trial court – over plaintiff’s objections – gave an instruction for “sudden emergency.” Essentially, the court indicated that a driver confronted with a dangerous situation that person did not create isn’t held to the same standard as any other. Plaintiff objected to this instruction because, she argued, there had been no evidence of a sudden emergency faced by defendant. Trial court overruled and jurors decided in favor of defendant.
On appeal, defendant argued the instruction was proper because the bicycle pulled out in front of him without warning. But as the state supreme court noted, that means defendant’s argument was that the “sudden emergency” was the accident itself. Unlike other cases where the doctrine has been applied, there was no indication of a sudden change in road conditions or unexpected obstruction that caused defendant to have to make a split-second decision that resulted in the collision. Rather, he encountered what the court described as an ordinary risk of driving through an alley, which is the possibility of encountering a pedestrian or bicyclist crossing that alleyway.
Simply not seeing that bicyclist or pedestrian doesn’t constitute a “sudden emergency.” Therefore, the court reversed and remanded the case for a new trial.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Tidd v. Kroshus, Oct. 15, 2015, North Dakota Supreme Court
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Florida Zipline Injuries Mount as Popularity Soars, Oct. 14, 2015, Boca Raton Bicycle Accident Attorney Blog