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Lyons v. Midnight Sun Transportation Services, Inc


    Citation. Lyons v. Midnight Sun Transp. Servs., 928 P.2d 1202, 1996 Alas. LEXIS 155 (Alaska Dec. 27, 1996).

    Brief Fact Summary. Lyons (Plaintiff) was killed when her van was truck broadside by a truck driven by David Jette and owned by Midnight Sun Transportation Services, Inc. (Defendant).

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. The court rejects the sudden emergency doctrine. In an emergency, the standard of care remains that of a reasonable person under the circumstances.

    Facts. Plaintiff was killed when her van was truck broadside by a truck driven by Jette and owned by Defendant. Plaintiff pulled out of a parking lot in front of Jette. Jette braked and steered to the left but Plaintiff continued to pull out further into the traffic lane. Jette’s truck collided with Plaintiff. Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant, claiming that Jette had been speeding and driving negligently. Conflicting testimony was introduced regarding Jette’s speed. Testimony suggested that if Jette had stayed in his lane, the accident would not have happened. Defendant claimed that steering to the left when a vehicle pulls out is a normal response. The jury was given an instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine. The jury found that Jette (and thus Defendant) had been negligent, but his negligence was not a cause of the accident. Plaintiff appeals, arguing that the sudden emergency doctrine was wrongfully given to the jury.

    Issue. In assessing Defendant’s liability under a claim of negligence, was the jury properly given an instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine?

    Held. No. Judgment for Defendant.
    * The sudden emergency doctrine is a rule of law which states that a person confronted with a sudden and unexpected peril, not resulting from his own doing, is not expected to exercise the same judgment and prudence the law requires of a person in calmer and more deliberate moments. The jury’s use of this doctrine was harmless error since the jury ruled in favor of Defendant.
    * The court then went on to disapprove of the sudden emergency doctrine stating that the doctrine is a generally useless appendage to the law of negligence. With or without an emergency, the standard of care a person must exercise is still that of a reasonable person under the circumstances.
    * The sudden emergency doctrine grew out of the harsh “all or nothing” rule in contributory negligence. Comparative negligence reduces Plaintiff’s recovery proportionally to Plaintiff’s degree of fault in causing the damage, rather than baring recovery completely. In comparative negligence, the sudden emergency doctrine only confuses the jury and adds no real substance to the standard of care.
    * Comparative negligence is a method of apportioning liability for a particular accident among the various parties who have been deemed negligent.

    Discussion. In assessing a party’s standard of care, the test is always the standard of a reasonable person under like circumstances. If the circumstances are such that an emergency is present, the “reasonable person under like circumstances” rule considers the emergency without the need for the sudden emergency doctrine. The sudden emergency doctrine is a legal principle exempting a person from the ordinary standard of reasonable care if that person acted instinctively to meet a sudden and urgent need for aid. The sudden emergency doctrine is essentially the “reasonable person under like circumstances” rule. Under these facts and a system of comparative negligence, it is no longer needed. Most jurisdictions follow the comparative fault system.



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