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Emergency Doctrine Saves Defendant In Head On Collision Suit (NY)

February 3, 2017

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In <a href="http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2017/2017_00291.htm"><em>Graci v Kingsley </em></a>the plaintiff was operating a motor vehicle on a two way road when her vehicle crossed over the double yellow line into oncoming traffic and collided with the defendant’s vehicle.  Rather than focusing a factual defense on comparative fault, the defendant sought protection under New York's "emergency doctrine."
The plaintiff testified that she lost control of her vehicle when it began to hydroplane after she drove over a "wet spot" on the roadway, causing her to slide across the double yellow line into oncoming traffic.  An eyewitness to the accident testified that the plaintiff's vehicle suddenly swerved left into oncoming traffic and collided with the defendants' vehicle.  The defendant testified that he had no time to apply his brakes prior to impact with the plaintiff's vehicle.
The plaintiff filed suit in Nassau County Supreme Court and the defendant moved for summary judgment arguing he was not negligent pursuant to the emergency doctrine; the trial court agreed, granted the motion and dismissed the case.
On appeal, the Appellate Division affirmed the decision, pointing out that the emergency doctrine provides:
<p style="text-align: justify;">when an actor is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance which leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation or consideration or causes the actor to be reasonably so disturbed that the actor must make a speedy decision without weighing alternative courses of conduct, the actor may not be negligent if the actions taken are reasonable and prudent in the emergency context</p>
Further, prior case law held that "a driver is not obligated to anticipate that a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction will cross over into oncoming traffic.  As such, the Appellate Division ruled that this was the classic example of the emergency doctrine, and the defendant could not be found negligent.
Thanks to George Parpas for his contribution to this post and please write to <a href="mailto: mbono@wcmlaw.com">Michael Bono</a> if you are interested in additional information.

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