What is a Sudden Emergency? How Does it Affect My Virginia Car Accident Case?

A sudden emergency is an event or even a combination of circumstances that requires immediate action without time for the deliberated use of judgment.  A jury can decide that a person was facing a sudden emergency and that is what caused the collision, rather than determining it was the person’s negligence. 

If the jury determines the defendant faced a sudden emergency, they can find he was not negligent and, therefore, not at fault for the collision.  If there is no negligence, then the injured party cannot make a recovery. 

While this may sound scary at first and could mean that you cannot make a recovery for your injuries, be aware that a sudden emergency rarely applies in a personal injury case.  If a defendant has faced that emergency before or if the situation is not unexpected, then the defense may not be used.  For example, if a defendant was traveling on Interstate 64 on Afton Mountain and claimed there was a sudden emergency due to fog, the doctrine could not be used to protect a driver from negligence, because it should be reasonably expected that fog can and does accumulate on the mountain.

The Virginia Supreme Court has stated that a sudden emergency is an “unexpected happening, an unforeseen occurrence or condition,” and that a jury should rarely be given jury instructions that allow them to consider the defense of sudden emergency.

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