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Sudden And Unexpected Circumstances In Motor Vehicle Accident Alleviates Defendant’s Liability (NY)

March 24, 2023

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New York courts recognize the emergency doctrine as a defense to certain New York tort actions, depending on the circumstances. The doctrine holds that where a driver is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance, not of their own doing, leaving them with little or no time for reflection and forcing them to make a quick decision without waiving alternatives, the driver’s actions may not be negligent if their actions are reasonable under the circumstances of the emergency.

The Appellate Division, Second Department recently addressed the emergency doctrine in<em> <a href="">Lizares v. Conklin</a>.</em> That case involved a multi-vehicle accident in which defendant’s vehicle hit plaintiff’s vehicle from behind, causing plaintiff’s vehicle to cross the double yellow line and strike a third vehicle. The third vehicle then struck a fourth vehicle. Plaintiff sued the three other drivers for negligence.

The driver of the third vehicle cross-moved for summary judgment pursuant to the emergency doctrine, submitting deposition transcripts to establish that plaintiff’s vehicle was propelled into her vehicle within one second of the initial rear end collision. The Court stated that a “driver is not obligated to anticipate that a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction will cross over into oncoming traffic, and such event constitutes a classic emergency situation, thus implicating the emergency doctrine” not of her own making, leaving her with no opportunity to avoid the collision. Since it found that an emergency existed and the driver acted reasonably with no opportunity to think, the court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint against the third driver.

The takeaway from the <em>Lizares</em> case is that automobile accident lawsuit defendants should assert and pursue a defense based on the emergency doctrine where the accident involved sudden and unexpected circumstances in which the driver had no time to react or avoid a collision. Summary judgment should be pursued in cases where the facts are clear.

Thank you to Gabriella Scarmato for her contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions.


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