How Changes to the Sudden Emergency Doctrine Benefit Pedestrians

Within the scope of Pennsylvania’s personal injury law, there is something known as the Sudden Emergency Doctrine. This doctrine deals with the actions of motorists when they are presented with “sudden emergencies” that lead to third-party injuries. Examples of sudden emergencies include a car pulling out in front of a motorist without warning or a person running into the street from between parked cars that hid them from view.

In 2020, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court passed a ruling that effectively changed how the Sudden Emergency Doctrine should be applied. They determined that the way in which the doctrine was being used was not consistent with how it was intended to be used. This new guidance on how the doctrine can be used benefits those injured by motorists in such events — namely pedestrians.

Historical Use of the Sudden Emergency Doctrine

Pedestrian Accidents

In the past, the Sudden Emergency Doctrine has been effectively invoked as a defense for motorists who caused injury to pedestrians and other motorists alike. Defense attorneys used the doctrine in misleading ways that made it seem as though if a sudden emergency occurred, the motorist was no longer liable for any injuries sustained. This use of the doctrine also involved improperly instructing the jury on the doctrine so that they were more likely to side with the defense. Obviously, this was bad news for anyone injured in sudden accidents who were seeking compensation. Luckily, the Graham v. Check case has changed this.

The Impact of Graham v. Check

Pedestrian crossing

The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court’s ruling makes it so that the Sudden Emergency Doctrine can no longer be used as a defense. The doctrine was never meant to be a defense that absolved liability for motorists, in the first place. It was originally meant to add context to a case, within which the actions of the defendant motorist were to be judged. Just because it is established that a sudden emergency occurred does not mean that the motorist is immune from liability.

When it is shown that a sudden emergency did contribute to the accident, there are further questions that need to be answered. For example, did the defendant react to the sudden emergency in a reasonable manner? Did they attempt to brake at all before the impact? Were they distracted in some way, such as by their phone? The answers to these and other questions will be vital to the outcome of the case. If the motorist did not make any attempt to avoid or mitigate the accident, it is going to be hard for the defense to prove that they reacted in a reasonable manner and should not be held liable.

How The New Interpretation Benefits Injured Parties

distracted driving

Ultimately, there are two major benefits of the new interpretation of the Sudden Emergency Doctrine for injured parties. The first is that the defense has the burden of proof for a sudden emergency. Before, it was almost on the injured party to prove that the events which led to the accident did not rise to the level of a sudden emergency. However, now it is definitively on the defense to prove that a sudden emergency did in fact occur. That alone is a big win for those injured by motorists.

Second, even if a sudden emergency is proven, that does not mean that your case is lost. In the past, it would have likely meant that. But now, the proving of a sudden emergency should no longer mean that the defendant is free from liability. The motorist’s percentage of liability may be reduced (Pennsylvania uses a comparative negligence system) depending on the facts of the case. However, the sudden emergency itself should not stop you from receiving compensation for your injuries.

A Victory for Victims

Thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s ruling in Graham v. Check, the Sudden Emergency Doctrine is no longer a viable defense for motorists. In the past, when it was used, it effectively meant that the motorist was no longer liable for the injuries they caused to pedestrians and the inhabitants of other vehicles. Now, not only does the defense have to prove that a sudden emergency occurred, but they can still be found liable for damages even if one did. This new interpretation of the doctrine is likely to help many people injured by drivers receive some level of compensation where they otherwise would have been left empty-handed.

Donaghue & Labrum Trial Lawyers

If you have been injured in an accident with a motor vehicle, either as a pedestrian or as an occupant of a vehicle, you are going to need a lawyer to ensure you receive the maximum amount of compensation you are entitled to. At Donaghue & Labrum, our personal injury attorneys have decades of experience litigating car and pedestrian accidents with a proven track record of getting our clients the money they need and deserve. Contact us today so you can stop worrying about your medical expenses and start focusing on your recovery.