Emergency Situation Part 2

In the last post on the Emergency Situation, a person asked if they had a personal injury claim for their heroic efforts to save a driver injured in a cross-over motor vehicle accident. But in the post, there was a brief mention that one or both of the drivers could be found liable for the hero’s injuries. That means, not only the driver that crossed over to the wrong side of the road, but also the driver who was in their correct lane could be liable for the hero’s injuries!

This statement bears some further explanation. Did the driver who faced another vehicle crossing over to his side of the road have is own emergency situation?  The answer is probably yes. That means, that even if the driver who was the victim of the cross-over driver might have been able to avoid the accident using a highly skilled NASCAR driver maneuver, he is not responsible for the accident. As long as the driver on the correct side of the road acted reasonably to avoid the head on collision, he is not responsible for any damage to himself or his car.

There are several factors to consider if a driver is facing an emergency situation. First, if the roadway was straight and level, did the cross-over occur suddenly within a second or seconds or was it gradual over a minute or two? Second, could the driver on the correct side of the road see if the cross-over driver was operating their vehicle erratically? (Thus, there might have been some warning of an impending accident.) Third, did the driver on the right side of the road contribute to this accident? Did the driver on the correct side of the road himself drive erratically and thus startle the other driver who crossed over? Based on the responses to the these questions, the driver on the correct side of the road would probably not be liable for the accident.

Emergency Situation

I was badly cut attempting to remove someone from their car through a broken window. I had seen an accident between two cars and stopped to see if I could call an ambulance. The car that was struck by another car crossing over a double yellow line was stuck in a ditch. When I got to the car in the ditch, the driver seemed to be panicking, trying to get out through the broken driver’s window. When I tried to help the driver through the window, I was badly cut and needed to be hospitalized myself. Do I have a case against anyone?

The short answer is yes. In prior blogs, the “common law” has been explained to be a legal principal that is announced in a legal decision, and over the course of decades, becomes law just like any statute that is passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor. The particular common law in this case is called the Emergency Situation Doctrine.

Judge Cardozo used the phrase “danger invites rescue” in an important Court of Appeals decision explaining the Emergency Situation Doctrine over a hundred years ago. The doctrine states that when a person sees another person in danger, the person who attempts to help the person in danger has a claim against the negligent parties that created the dangerous situation. (The person attempting the rescue though cannot act in a reckless manner.)

In this case, when you saw the two vehicle collision, you were compelled to see what you could do to help the people involved. You stated that your main goal was to see if people were injured, and if so, to summon an ambulance. When you came upon the person panicking, you attempted to assist that person from their vehicle. You were injured assisting that person exiting the vehicle.

Your claim is against the party or parties that created the situation. You may have a claim against both drivers. You have a claim against the driver that crossed over the yellow line because that driver was not following the Vehicle and Traffic Law in their vehicle operation and that conduct would be negligent. However, the driver you rescued could be negligent if that driver did not take any action to avoid an accident that might have been avoided. Statements from both drivers might be evaluated by a jury to determine if there was fault on both drivers.