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How The Sudden Emergency Defense Works In Texas Law

In our continuing series on damages, we’re going to look at how courts apply the sudden emergency doctrine. This defense is not often employed successfully, but it’s commonly invoked by defense attorneys seeking to lessen their clients’ potential exposure.


Questions Answered on This Page:

  • What exactly is the sudden emergency defense?
  • How does the sudden emergency defense work in Texas?

How the sudden emergency defense works.

Tort lawsuits aren’t just about compensating victims. They’re about extracting that compensation from those who’ve misbehaved. At their core, these cases are premised on the defendant’s having acted negligently. Which is to say, the person who hurt you failed to observe even the barest standard of reasonable care and then hurt you as a result.

To use an extreme example, though, what if you were accidentally injured by a police officer who was chasing after an armed madman near a kids’ playground? Would you feel as though the policeman had done something “wrong”? Of course not. You’d know that the officer was doing his duty, trying to prevent a tragedy, and it was purely an accident.

Well, the sudden emergency doctrine works the same way. A defendant will not be held liable for your injuries if a jury concludes the following four elements are present:

  1. The defendant faced a situation that arose suddenly and unexpectedly
  2. That situation wasn’t the defendant’s fault
  3. Any reasonable person would have concluded that the situation was so serious that it required action without time for deliberation
  4. The defendant acted in the same way anyone would have

Basically, a problem immediately arose out of the defendant’s control which prompted the defendant to take action that anyone else would have.

Not a Moment to Waste The importance of a prompt investigation...Read More >

Some illustrations of legitimate and illegitimate sudden emergencies.

As always, it’s helpful to tease out a concept like this through examples:

  • A man is driving his son to school when his boy begins choking. Knowing a hospital is nearby, he floors his accelerator to get his son to a doctor. Running a stop sign, he dings a fellow motorist’s car. A jury may well believe the father acted correctly.
  • Some under-aged college kids are drinking one day at a frat party. One male student encourages his date to consume 10 shots in a row. Soon, she’s experiencing symptoms of alcohol poisoning. The male student puts her in his car, floors his accelerator, and later causes an accident in an effort to get her to the hospital. The student won’t be able to claim the defense because he negligently helped create the emergency. Further, it can’t be said that the young woman’s alcohol poisoning was unexpected, give how much she was encouraged to drink.

Part of why this doctrine exists is because we want people like the father in the first example to feel free to do what’s necessary to preserve life and we don’t want to punish him for behaving rationally. In the second example, the male student may have done the correct thing in trying to get his date to the hospital, but he shouldn’t be off the hook since he created the dangerous situation through his own stupid behavior.

You need an attorney who understand the law, or you risk losing your case to a defense like sudden emergency.

Defense lawyers will try to gin up some theory about why their clients didn’t behave improperly, given the “circumstances.” They’ll even try to put the blame back onto you and your loved ones. Our job—which we’ve been doing for 25 years—is to find the evidence your case needs to prove that you were in the right.

Regardless of your situation, we are here to help. Call us at (855) 326-0000 now to learn—for free—what our firm can do for you.


Other articles about personal injury cases that may be helpful:

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