Sudden Emergency / Unexpected Medical Emergency Doctrines in Automobile Cases

December 11th, 2013 by Rieders Travis in Car Accidents

The courts are urged not to confuse sudden emergency with unforeseen medical emergency. Shiner v. Ralston, 64 A.3d 1 (Pa. Super. 2013) resulted in the reversal of summary judgment for a defendant. The court granted summary judgment based upon the fact that defendant died at the wheel. The court said that the medical records were not so clear that summary judgment should have been granted. In Shiner, the court held that it was possible that defendant was aware of his medical condition and therefore should not have been driving or was negligent to drive.

The unforeseen medical emergency doctrine appears to have been tightened in Pennsylvania by this decision. The assumption is that when a person is unconscious and unable to act, he is incapable of negligence. Unforeseeable loss of consciousness, if proven, is a complete defense to negligence and the defendant bears the burden of establishing the defense. The defense must be pled in new matter.

By contrast, the sudden emergency doctrine in Pennsylvania is not an affirmative defense. It is a legal principle that provides that an individual will not be held to the usual degree of care or be required to exercise his or her best judgment when confronted with a sudden and unexpected position of parallel created in whole or in part by someone other than the person claiming protection under the doctrine.

Pennsylvania courts have acknowledged the “sudden emergency doctrine” as a relevant defense in determining whether a driver was negligent in an automobile accident. Lockhart v. List, 665 A.2d 1176 (Pa. 1995). The “sudden emergency doctrine” recognizes that a driver, who, although driving in a prudent manner, is confronted with a sudden or unexpected event which little or no time to comprehend a situation and act accordingly should not be subject to liability simply because another perhaps more prudent course was available. Under Pennsylvania law, an unexpected event can be some object that suddenly moves into the driver’s path where there is nothing that the driver can do to avoid a collision.

If you have been injured in an automobile accident and think you may have a claim, contact Cliff Rieders, Esq. of the Rieders Travis Law Firm.

Attorney Cliff Rieders

Attorney Cliff RiedersCliff Rieders is a Nationally Board Certified Trial Lawyer practicing personal injury law. A large part of his practice involves multi-district litigation, including cases related to pharmaceuticals, vitamin supplements and medical devices. He is admitted in several state and federal courts, as well as the Supreme Court of the United States. Rieders is the past regional president of the Federal Bar Association and is a life member of the distinguished American Law Institute, which promulgates proposed rules adopted by many state courts. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, formerly Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. As a founder of the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, he served on the Board for 15 years.

Not only has Rieders held many highly esteemed, leadership positions, he authored legislation related to the Patient Safety Authority and the Mcare Act, which governs medical and hospital liability actions in Pennsylvania. He authored texts upon which both practitioners and judges rely, including Pennsylvania Malpractice Laws and Forms, and Financial Responsibility Law Issues in Pennsylvania, the latter governing auto and truck collisions in Pennsylvania. In addition, he wrote several books on the practice of law in Pennsylvania regarding wrongful death and survivor actions, insurance bad faith, legal malpractice claims and worker rights, among others. Rieders also serves as a resource to practitioners as a regular speaker for Celesq, an arm of the world’s largest legal publisher, Thomson Reuters West Publishing.

As recognition of his wide range of contribution to his profession and of his dedication to protecting the rights of his clients, he received numerous awards, among them the George F. Douglas Amicus Curiae Award, the Milton D. Rosenberg Award, the B’nai B’rith Justice Award, and awards of recognition from the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers. [ Attorney Bio ]

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