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3.7-18  Sudden Emergency

Revised to January 1, 2008

As previously stated, negligence is the failure to exercise reasonable care under all of the circumstances presented.  One of the circumstances for you to consider in this case is whether a sudden emergency situation existed.  The existence of a sudden emergency is a factor to be considered in the evaluation of whether the defendant acted as a reasonable person under the circumstances.  An individual, choosing a course of action in an emergency, is required to exercise the care of an ordinarily prudent person acting in such an emergency.

You are to consider the evidence in this case to determine whether an emergency situation existed.  If you find that an emergency existed which was not caused by the conduct of the defendant and that, as a result of the emergency, the defendant chose a course of action which a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances, then the defendant's conduct would not be negligent.  However, if you find that plaintiffs injuries resulted from the conduct of the defendant and that either an emergency did not exist, or the emergency situation was caused by the defendant's own conduct, or that the defendant, in the face of an emergency, failed to act as a reasonable person would have done under the circumstances, then the defendant would be negligent.


Mei v. Alterman Transport Lines, Inc., 159 Conn. 307, 310-12 (1970); Miller v. Porter, 156 Conn. 466, 469-70 (1968); Puza v. Hamway, 123 Conn. 205, 213 (1937); Puchalsky v. Rappahahn, 63 Conn. App. 72, 79-81, cert. denied, 256 Conn. 931 (2001).


Although drafted from the standpoint of the defendant, this charge is equally applicable to a claim asserted by a plaintiff.  Whether a charge on the doctrine of sudden emergency is applicable depends upon the claims of proof advanced by the parties.  To justify the instruction there must be an adequate basis in the claims of proof to satisfy each of the doctrine's elements:  1) that an emergency actually existed, 2) that the perilous situation was not created by the party requesting the charge, and 3) when confronted with the emergency, the party chose a course of action which would or might have been taken by a person of reasonable prudence in the same or similar situation.  Mei v. Alterman Transport Lines, Inc., supra, 159 Conn. 311-12; Miller v. Porter, supra, 156 Conn. 468-69.  "'The doctrine applies only in cases in which the operator is suddenly confronted by a situation not of his own making and has the opportunity of deciding rapidly between alternative courses of action.'"  Mei v. Alterman Transport Lines, Inc., supra, 159 Conn.  312, quoting Vachon v. Ives, 150 Conn. 452, 455 (1963).

The Connecticut Supreme Court has not considered the sudden emergency doctrine in recent years.  The modern status of the doctrine in other jurisdictions is in flux.  Criticism of the doctrine has centered mainly on the confusion of the doctrine with respect to the standard of care and its effect on the application of comparative negligence.  See J. Ghent, Modern Status of Sudden Emergency Doctrine, 10 A.L.R.5th 680 (1993); W. Prosser & W. Keeton, Torts (5th Ed. 1986) 33, pp. 196-97.


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