Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Sudden Emergency Doctrine Not Applicable in Every Pedestrian Case

In the case of Olar v. Bennett, No. 703 WDA 2022 (Pa. Super. Dec. 29, 2023 Bender, P.J.E., Lazarus, J., and Kunselman, J.) (Op. by Lazarus, J.), the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that a trial court committed error at trial by giving the Defendant’s requested sudden emergency jury instruction and requested driver’s duty of care instruction in a case where the Defendant driver struck pedestrians.

The Superior Court ruled that the evidence did not support a determination that the Defendant was confronted with a sudden and unforeseeable occurrence.

According to the Opinion, the pedestrian Plaintiffs had left a party at approximately 11:30 p.m. at night and were crossing a two-lane road that was lit with streetlight to return to a parking lot and their car when the Defendant’s minivan struck them as they were crossing the road.

According to the Opinion, the Defendant driver testified that he had a clear view of the road in front of him, was going 20-25 mph in a 25 mph zone, and that he did not see the Plaintiffs until he hit them. The Defendant tested negative for any drugs or alcohol.

The Plaintiffs presented an expert accident reconstructionist who testified that the Plaintiffs would have been visible at a distance of nearly 300 feet. The expert also testified that, even if the Defendant were traveling at a higher speed of 30 mph, he still could have been able to stop his vehicle prior to striking the Plaintiffs if he had been paying attention.

Moreover, the sole eyewitness to the accident testified that he saw the Plaintiffs enter the road at a slow pace, that is, the Plantiffs did not dart out, and that he did not hear any horns, skidding or screeching tires before the Plaintiffs were hit.

The Superior Court noted that a driver’s duty of vigilance and attentiveness was required just as much during daylight, if not more, at night.

The Superior Court held that it was error for the trial court to give the requested sudden emergency instruction as night driving was not an emergency and given that a driver had a duty to adjust his or her speed based upon road conditions and visibility so as to ensure his ability to react to foreseeable events.

It was additionally emphasized that this was not a “dart out” case in terms of the actions of the Plaintiffs.

The appellate court found that the trial court’s failure to instruct the jury on the driver’s duty of care precluded a clarification of a material issue in the case for the jury.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK .

Source: “Digest of Recent Opinions.” Pennsylvania Law Weekly (Jan. 16, 2024).

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