Brief Fact Summary. Defendant’s vehicle collided with plaintiff’s vehicle on the highway while plaintiff was in the process of slowing down and turning to pick up her father, whose car had broken down on the side of the road.Â Plaintiff sued Defendant for negligence and lost at trial, but won her appeal based on the trial court’s erroneous jury instructions on the legal standard for negligence.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A person is negligent if he fails to exercise reasonable care, a standard that is measured by what a reasonable person of ordinary prudence would or would not, do in the same or similar circumstances.
Issue. Â Whether the trial court committed error by providing a jury instruction on negligence pertaining to â€œemergencyâ€ circumstances.
Held. Yes.Â A person is negligent if he fails to exercise reasonable care, a standard that is measured by what a reasonable person of ordinary prudence would or would not, do in the same or similar circumstances.Â The emergency instruction, however, tells the jurors that if there was an emergency, they nevertheless may conclude that the actor was not negligent even if he made a choice that was not the â€œwisest choiceâ€.Â Jurors would understandably view that instruction as permitting them to find a defendant not negligent even when he makes an unwise choice.Â The reasonable care standard does not mean that a defendant is not negligent simply because an unwise choice was made in the context of an emergency.Â Accordingly, the court concluded that the emergency instruction misstated the law and was likely to confuse the jury as to the correct legal standard, thus substantially affecting plaintiff’s rights.
Discussion. This decision explains the standard of care requirement for negligence and highlights the controversy surrounding â€œemergencyâ€ instructions.Â Several courts have said that the idea behind the emergency instruction is adequately covered by the instruction defining the reasonable care standard and that the separate emergency instruction should never be given.