The Sudden Emergency Doctrine

The Sudden Emergency Doctrine

Suppose you were in a car wreck through no fault of you own, but the insurance company for the other driver still refuses to pay. Their reasoning? The Sudden Emergency Doctrine. They claim the other driver was faced with a sudden emergency and therefore is not responsible for your injuries or damages. How can this be? What is the Sudden Emergency Doctrine?

As an experienced auto accident lawyer turns to in serious injury cases, we’d like to share with you the basics of this legal doctrine.

The Basics of the Sudden Emergency Doctrine

A person who is faced with a sudden or unexpected emergency that calls for immediate action is not expected to use the same accuracy of judgment as a person acting under normal circumstances who has time to think and reflect before acting. A person faced with a sudden emergency is required to act as a reasonably careful person placed in a similar position. However, a sudden emergency will not excuse the actions of a person whose own negligence created the emergency in the first place.


Here are a few examples where the Sudden Emergency Doctrine could come into play.

  • Driver A is driving along and all of a sudden a tree falls into the roadway. Driver A swerves to miss the tree, but crosses the center line and hits Driver B.
  • Driver of car encountered “dust cloud” caused by street sweeper and ran into the street sweeper, injuring her front-seat passenger.
  • Driver of truck is speeding down a residential street, but a small child chasing a ball darts out in front of him. Driver swerves to avoid hitting the child, but drives his truck into homeowner’s mailbox and fence.

Who Decides if the Sudden Emergency Doctrine Applies?

In each of the examples above, the injured parties did nothing to contribute to the accident, but, because of the sudden emergency doctrine, each would likely receive denial letters from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. But, the assertion of a sudden emergency defense by an insurance company is not binding, nor is it conclusive. For this reason, it is important to hire a lawyer to help you. Whether or not a person is negligent, and whether or not the sudden emergency applies, are factual questions for the jury to decide at trial.

If you need help with your auto accident case, or another kind of personal injury case, contact the experienced auto accident lawyer.

Thanks to our friends and contributors at Patterson Bray who have significant experience fighting for auto accident victims in Tennessee.

Greenberg Law Offices