Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a personal injury case discussing what that court called the “sudden emergency doctrine.” The court explained that the doctrine applies when a defendant is faced with a sudden emergency, and if it applies, it excuses the defendant from exercising reasonable judgment. Ultimately, the court concluded that the defendant met the elements of the affirmative defense, and dismissed the plaintiff’s claim. The case presents an interesting issue for Washington, D.C. car accident victims in that it discussed under what situations a defendant’s potentially negligent conduct may be excused.
The plaintiff was getting on the highway when the driver that was behind her quickly passed her, making an obscene gesture as he passed. The passing driver then slammed on his brakes, causing the plaintiff to quickly apply her own brakes in order to avoid an accident. The car immediately behind the plaintiff also applied the brakes, and was able to stop in time to avoid an accident.
The defendant truck driver was driving behind the third car in line, and despite braking and sounding his horn, was unable to stop in time. The defendant crashed into the car in front of him, and that car was pushed into the plaintiff’s vehicle.