Young v. Clark

814 P.2d 364 (Colo. 1991).

One-Sentence Takeaway: The sudden emergency doctrine applies where competent evidence is presented that the defendant was confronted with sudden or unexpected occurrence not of defendant’s own making.

Summary: Plaintiff and Defendant were both traveling on the same road and the road went through a construction zone.  An unknown driver quickly changed to the left lane and then quickly came back into the center lane. This caused the drivers behind, including Plaintiff, to quickly apply their brakes.  Defendant who was driving behind Plaintiff was looking behind her shoulder because she was about the change lanes.  Her passenger yelled that the cars in front were slowing down.  Defendant applied brakes but was unable to stop and her vehicle crashed into the rear of Plaintiff’s vehicle.

The trial court instructed the jury about the sudden emergency doctrine.  The jury determined that Defendant was not negligent.

The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed.  The Court first clarified that the sudden emergency doctrine did not impose lesser standard of care on person caught in emergency situation and that person was still expected to respond to a situation as reasonably prudent person under the similar circumstances.  Rather, the sudden emergency doctrine merely permitted the jury to consider the emergency circumstances in determining whether the defendant’s conduct was reasonable.

Here, the evidence warranted the trial court’s rendering of the sudden emergency instruction to the jury.  The evidence established that an unknown driver had suddenly and unexpectedly reentered the flow of traffic causing Plaintiff to suddenly apply the brakes, and there was no evidence showing that Defendant was following too closely behind Plaintiff’s vehicle or that she was driving too fast under the circumstances.

NOTE: In 2013, the Colorado Supreme Court abolished the sudden emergency doctrine, abrogating Young.  See Bedor v. Johnson, 292 P.3d 924 (Colo. 2013) (abolishing the sudden emergency doctrine and reasoning that the doctrine, under which a person who, through no fault of his or her own, was placed in a sudden emergency, was not chargeable with negligence if the person exercised that degree of care that a reasonably careful person would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances, was of minimal utility in the comparative negligence scheme and the doctrine often caused jury confusion).

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