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What You Need to Know About the Sudden Emergency Defense

May 28, 2021 - Car Accidents by

Car accident plaintiffs (i.e., the injured parties in a personal injury case) are likely to encounter a number of different defenses, depending on the particular circumstances of the accident at issue.  Among these is that of “sudden emergency,” which works as an absolute defense that gives the defendant an opportunity to avoid liability altogether.  Initially, the sudden emergency defense seems like quite a difficult barrier to overcome — after all, the defense depends on making the defendant appear to be the vulnerable party, which can win over juries.  If the defendant effectively redefines themselves as the victim, this could undermine your ability to secure compensation for the injuries you sustained in the car accident due to their negligent or wrongful actions. But our Tuscaloosa injury attorney is here to help you fight for your rights as the injured party.

The Default Standard of Care in Alabama and Elsewhere

When attempting to find a defendant liable for your injuries — in the motor vehicle accident context and otherwise — you’ll have to show that they violated the applicable standard of care for the situation.  In Alabama, as in all other states, the default standard of care is that of a reasonably prudent person in the same or similar circumstances.  This standard varies from case to case, however, as circumstances may be quite different.  In any case, if the defendant acts in a manner that is below expectations (e.g. violates the standard of care) then they can be held liable for the injuries caused as a result.

For example, suppose that you are injured in a car accident on the highway.  The facts show that the defendant driver was switching lanes chaotically and was not using their turn signals.  As a result, you did not have time to react to their swerving pattern, and a collision occurred, resulting in severe injuries.

In litigating your injury claims against the defendant, you will likely have an easy time showing that they were negligent (or worse!) and therefore liable.  After all, reasonably prudent drivers in the same or similar circumstances would use their turn signals and would moderate their lane-shifting to suit the traffic conditions.

How the Sudden Emergency Defense is Typically Used by Alabama Defendants

The situation becomes a bit more complicated with the application of the sudden emergency defense.  A sudden emergency is an affirmative defense, but importantly, it does not change the formula for negligence — what it does is lower the standard of care significantly, making it possible for the defendant to justify their otherwise negligent actions and avoid liability for injuries caused in emergency situations.

In order for the defendant to take advantage of the sudden emergency defense, they must be able to show that there was a sudden emergency and that they are not at fault for creating the emergency.  A defendant who is given ample warning of an emergency hazard (minutes in advance of its location) cannot then swerve at the last minute to avoid the hazard and sideswipe a nearby car.  They will be held liable for any injuries thereby caused.

Keep this in mind: The standard of care is that of a reasonably prudent person in the same or similar circumstances as the defendant.  Reasonably prudent people act very erratically and irrationally in emergency situations, however.

Back to the lane-switching example.  Suppose that — instead of a normal highway situation — the defendant was being chased by masked gunmen in a truck.  The gunmen are forcing the defendant to switch lanes chaotically to avoid getting hurt themselves.  This would almost certainly constitute a sudden emergency scenario, and further, the actions taken by the defendant (e.g. swerving chaotically and forgetting turn signals) would likely be considered reasonable given the circumstances.  The defendant would thus be able to make use of the sudden emergency defense and avoid liability.

Seek Legal Guidance – Let a Skilled Tuscaloosa Injury Attorney Help You With Your Case

If you have been injured in an accident that was caused by the negligence or wrongful misconduct of another party, then Alabama law may give you the right to pursue a civil action for damages. There are a number of defenses that you are likely to encounter, however, and it’s important that you consult with a qualified attorney who can effectively counter the arguments presented by the defendant.  Contact an experienced Tuscaloosa injury attorney for further assistance with your claims.

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