Emergency Situation Part 2

In the last post on the Emergency Doctrine, 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.

Subway Crime

I was injured during an incident on the subway. I was attacked by several youths. There was a conductor on the subway but he did nothing to stop the attack on myself or the other passengers. Do I have a claim against the City?

Generally speaking, the City of New York and the New York City Police Department do not guarantee the safety of its citizens from crime. The argument against municipal liability boils down to economics. The City cannot afford to hire and deploy police to protect everyone, everywhere, at all times. Many times, the police can only offer a deterrent to crime. That deterrent is that the police will investigate crimes after they are committed and potentially arrest and offer cases to the District Attorney to prosecute alleged criminals. Every time a crime is committed by a perpetrator, that perpetrator may be arrested, prosecuted, and incarcerated for the crime. It is that possibility of incarceration that acts as a deterrent to potential criminals.

In order for the City to be responsible for the damages to a crime victim, there must be a “special relationship” established between the crime victim and police officer on the scene. If a police officer sees a crime in progress and has started to assist the victim, then if the police officer fails to assist or fails to request back up, the victim could bring a case against the City. There are many variations of these facts, and each slight variation can bring a different result.

Your specific case may be one the few types of cases which could find the New York City Transit Authority (NYCTA) responsible for the actions of the criminals that attacked you. Public Authorities Law § 1212(3) authorizes a private recovery against the NYCTA for the negligent operation of the subway system. You stated that a conductor was on the subway but did nothing to stop the attack on you (and other passengers). Although that conductor was not obligated to personally intervene (like a superhero in some Marvel comics movie), but if the subway employee witnessed the attack, but did not summon help, even though summoning that help would not put the conductor at risk, the MTA could be responsible for your damages.

Pedestrian Knockdown

When I was driving, a person stepped out onto the roadway and I struck him. I never saw the pedestrian because he unexpectedly began walking from the sidewalk onto the road. What should I do?

I assume you already spoke to police at the accident scene. The first thing you should do is contact your insurance company immediately. The insurance premiums you pay provide that your insurance carrier will defend and indemnify you for accidents. That means that your insurance company will hire attorneys to represent you in any negligence case that is brought. Your insurance company will also be responsible to pay for damages up to the amount of your insurance policy limits. If you have a separate umbrella policy, you should notify that carrier as well of the accident. As long as you notify your insurance company about an accident in a timely fashion you should be protected.

Since you were vague about your description of the accident, there are a few issues about which you should probably be aware. These legal points all are centered on the Vehicle and Traffic Law. Some of these laws may seem contradictory, but once you can get a clear picture of the facts, there will be no contradictions.

Was the pedestrian in a crosswalk at the time of the accident? Vehicle and Traffic Law § 110 defines crosswalk. Not only are painted lines across the road considered a crosswalk, but there are “unmarked” crosswalks. At the end of a block, there are “imaginary” lines that connect the “lateral lines” of sidewalks on each side of a roadway. Those “imaginary” lines are a cross walk and the pedestrian has the right of way.

If your accident occurred where there were no traffic signals, Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1151(a) apply. Pedestrians have the right of way in crosswalks (marked or unmarked). But pedestrians must yield the right of way to cars if they are crossing in an area that has no crosswalk, under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1152.

There are also “common law” duties, meaning that there is no statute defining this duty, but judicial decisions over the course of decades have imposed duties on motorists. One common law duty is to “see what there is to be seen.” So even if a pedestrian is in the road, not at a crosswalk and in an area without traffic controls, the driver still could be liable. Thus, in the question when you mentioned “I never saw the pedestrian.” Do you mean that you never saw the pedestrian at all or you never saw the pedestrian until it was too late to avoid the accident? The last issue will probably be huge in determining accident responsibility.

Impaired Drivers

I was injured in a car accident. The other driver looked like she was drunk or impaired in some way. Will my case be affected by the other driver’s condition?

There are two ways the other driver’s condition may affect your case. A person who drives a car in an impaired state is held to the same standard of care as a sober driver. Furthermore, if the driver took a breathalyzer test, the results of that test would be admissible at trial. Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1192 lists categories of impairment based on the amount of alcohol in a person’s body and the jury would be aware of the test results and the categories of impairment. If the impaired driver refuses to take a breathalyzer test at the scene, that fact a driver refused to take a breathalyzer test at the scene of an accident would also be admissible at trial under Vehicle and Traffic Law § 1194. So a jury would be aware of all the circumstances of the accident and would be instructed to judge the standard of care of the impaired driver as if the driver were sober.

The second affect on your case may be less helpful. Most auto insurance policies have a clause which gives insurance companies the right to disclaim coverage for an impaired driver. If the insurance carrier for the other vehicle disclaims coverage, it may be in your interest to legally fight that disclaimer. If you lose that fight with the impaired driver’s insurance company, you would have the right to bring a claim against your own insurance policy for an uninsured motorist claim. Every auto insurance policy must provide benefits for a driver involved in an uninsured accident. This means if the carrier for the impaired driver successfully disclaims coverage, you could pursue a bodily injury against your own carrier for an uninsured motorist claim.