New York City Personal Injury Law Blog

What does the Emergency Doctrine in a Car Accident Refer To?

Posted on Oct 29, 2014 in Car Accidents

Road safety is one of the primary concerns for lawmakers in New York, and the state has decided to use red light cameras at traffic intersections to curb traffic violations and accidents. Experts have been disputing the efficacy of these cameras; some even say that this is more of a revenue generating gimmick than an actual solution to the Big Apple’s traffic problems. Even as the debate rages it is the common man on the road who is once again put in a quandary.

A Scenario

Traffic lights and security cameras

Traffic lights can also cause accidents.

Imagine this: you are driving along the road approaching an intersection, and suddenly the light turns yellow. Now, you only have three seconds to figure out if you can drive past the intersection or come to a stop. If you do make the decision to drive past and happen to cross the intersection when the light turns red, the cameras will be activated taking pictures of your car as it crosses the intersection.

More Harm than Good

Many drivers may decide to stop short when they see the light turn yellow. But at the same time, drivers who do not stop without giving their fellow road-mates enough indication can cause an accident on the road. It is very easy to slam into a vehicle from behind when you someone decides to apply their brakes all of a sudden. Who, in this case, is the one at fault then? The driver who stopped short, or the driver who slammed into a standing vehicle?

Understanding the ‘Emergency Doctrine’

If the driver who was in the vehicle which you accidentally hit has sustained injuries, they may decide to bring a personal injury lawsuit against you. A lawsuit of this nature is often decided by proving liability for an accident, but in the above case where a driver slams into a vehicle that has come to an abrupt halt at a red signal no one is liable in the eyes of the law! Under New York law this is known as the ’emergency doctrine’. The rule can be summarized by saying that since both the parties were faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance which was not of their own making, neither had enough time for reflection. As such they are believed to have acted reasonably and prudently in the emergency situation and are not considered negligent in any way.

An important aspect of using this doctrine in a car accident case is to determine whether the defendant was in a position to anticipate the emergency situation that led to the accident in the first place. For instance, if it is proved that the defendant had not maintained the recommended safe distance from the vehicle in front then the emergency doctrine does not apply as the defendant driver is clearly at fault. It is only in those extenuating circumstances when one has no way of avoiding an accident that this doctrine may be used in court by a faultless driver.

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