Defendant was in line in his car at a bank drive-up teller while Plaintiff)was in a car approximately five feet behind Defendant’s vehicle. In response to another car backing up immediately in front of him, Defendant quickly drove his car in reverse to avoid another that car. However, in the process of doing so, Defendant struck Plaintiff’s car and the latter sued for damages.
Defendant testified at trial that he had acted on reflex and admitted that he had not known whether there was a car behind him at the time. The jury was instructed regarding negligence and the sudden emergency doctrine. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendant and Plaintiff appealed.
The issues presented to the Alaska Supreme Court were: (i) What standard must a jury apply in determining whether a party is liable for negligence; and (ii) Whether the trial court erred by giving jury instructions on the sudden emergency doctrine.
The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed the judgment in favor of Defendant.
The Court reasoned that, the law requires a jury to weigh the actions of a person charged with negligence against the standard of conduct of a reasonable person in the same circumstances. The Court held that the jury was bound to evaluate the reasonableness of Defendant’s actions in light of the evidence, which showed that he was in an emergency situation when he acted. The jury found that Defendant had acted properly under those circumstances. Thus, it was not error for the court to give the jury instructions for negligence in the context of emergency circumstances.