Car Accidents and the Sudden Emergency Doctrine

Let us assume that you have had a car accident in Georgia and you call the at fault driver's car insurance company and they tell you they are not responsible for the crash because it was the result of a "sudden emergency." What the heck is that?

Georgia law defines a sudden emergency as a sudden danger caused without the defendants contribution and which forced them to choose a course of action without sufficient time for thought such that if they act negligently, it is only because of the lack of time to pick the wisest path. Matheson v. Stilkenboom, 251 Ga.App. 693, 696 (2001).

Typically the defendant wants to have the jury charged on the doctrine of sudden emergency because it allows their lawyer to argue the crash was not their fault because they did not have enough time to react. It reads that a person is not negligent if they act according to their best interest or in the most apparently judicious manner due to insufficient time to deal with the situation in a reasoned manner. Beringause v. Fogleman Truck Lines 200 Ga. App. 822 (1991)

A good example of the use of the defense can be found in the case of Maxineau v. King. There, the defendant swore he was driving in an open lane of traffic when a car merged in front of him from the on ramp and suddenly hit the brakes.  Maxineau had to choose between hitting the car in front or switching lanes to the left to hit King's truck. Even though King had a totally different story about how the crash occurred, the Judge was obligated to give the jury the charge and to leave it to the jurors to decide what story is more believable.

If you are speaking with an insurance adjuster on a Georgia car accident and they start talking about the sudden emergency doctrine, be on your toes and call a good Atlanta car accident lawyer to go over the facts.



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