Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Vehicles Traveling in Same Direction Are Not Static Objects Under Sudden Emergency Doctrine


In its recent decision in the case of Drew v. Work, 2014 Pa.Super. 137 (Pa. Super. June 30, 2014 Shogan, J., Olson, J., and Wecht,J.)(Op. by Olson, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court provided one of its latest decisions on the application of the sudden emergency doctrine in a motor vehicle accident case. 
 
In this case, the Plaintiff testified that the Defendant’s vehicle clipped the Plaintiff’s vehicle while the Plaintiff was passing.   The Defendant testified, instead, that the Plaintiff cut off the Defendant’s vehicle.  
 
At trial, the Plaintiff’s requested Points for Charge on negligence per se related to the Defendant’s alleged unsafe departure from his lane, as well as a request for instructions on the sudden emergency doctrine.  
 
The trial court rejected jury instructions on both charges after deeming the Defendant’s vehicle to be a “static object” since both vehicles were traveling in the same direction.  
 
The jury returned a defense verdict finding the Defendant 40% negligence and the Plaintiff  60% negligent.  
 
On appeal, the Plaintiff argued, in part, that the trial court erred in not providing any requested jury instructions on per se negligence and the sudden emergency doctrine. 
 
The Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected the trial court’s determination that the fact that both parties’ vehicles were traveling in the same direction meant that the Defendant’s vehicle was a “static object.”   The court found that such an analysis to be too rigid of an application of the “static object” and “clear distance ahead” rules.  
 
To the contrary, the Pennsylvania Superior Court stated that the Plaintiff was entitled to an instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine under the four part standard of that doctrine, i.e., (1) an individual suddenly and unexpectedly finds himself or herself confronted with a dangerous situation, (2) that permits no opportunity to assess the danger, (3) and that such a person is entitled to the application of the doctrine if he or she responds appropriately, and (4) where the person invoking the doctrine proves that he or she did not create the emergency.
 
The Superior Court noted that, in the case before it, the testimony supported the jury instruction as there was evidence that the Defendant unexpectedly presented the Plaintiff with a dangerous situation that the Plaintiff responded to appropriately, and where the Plaintiff did not create or contribute to the emergency.
 
The Superior Court also ruled that the trial court erred in not providing the jury instruction on the per se negligence rule given that there was evidence to support such a jury instruction.   

Anyone wishing to review this decision may click this LINK.

Source:  "Case Digests."  Pennsylvania Law Weekly (July 8, 2014).

 

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