The Sudden Emergency Doctrine

In previous blog posts we discussed the amount of care owed to a third party. However, a deviation from that general standard of care exists when dealing with sudden emergencies.

Florida personal injury law provides that when a sudden and unexpected danger occurs, the responsibility of the actors will differ from those situations where the circumstances show that the danger may reasonably have been anticipated. The law recognizes that in sudden emergencies, individuals are momentarily rendered incapable of thoughtful and intelligent action. Similarly, the law has established that in such situations the reacting party may be disturbed or excited to the extent that they cannot weigh alternative courses of action and thus are left to make speedy decisions which often rely on guessing or speculation.

As a result of the emergency, the reacting party should not be held to the same standard of care. When a sudden emergency exists, the reasonable person standard only requires the exercise of such judgment as a person of ordinary reason and prudence would exercise under similar extraordinary circumstances. See Wallace v. National Fisheries Inc., 768 So.2d 17 (Fla. 3rd DCA 2000). This is commonly and legally referred to as the Sudden Emergency Doctrine.

In order for the Sudden Emergency Doctrine to apply, the evidence must show: 1.) the claimed emergency actually or apparently happened; 2.) the person confronted with the emergency did not create or contribute to the perilous situation; 3.) alternative courses of action in dealing with the emergency were open and available to him; and 4.) the action or course taken would or might have been taken by reasonable and prudent persons under the same or similar situation.

As a result of this doctrine when a person is confronted with a sudden emergency he will not be expected to exercise the same degree of care that will be required of one who encounters a situation which permits him time to deliberate and to fully exercise his judgment.