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Kentucky Court of Appeals Reaffirms Sudden Emergency Defense

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By Anthony Pernice

January 17, 2020

Since the adoption of pure comparative fault in Kentucky, the proper analysis of the sudden emergency defense within the context of summary judgment has remained an open question. The sudden emergency defense holds, that a motorist cannot be held liable where a situation arises that is so unexpected that a reasonable person cannot be expected to avoid being in an accident. In Crister v. Crister, 2018 -CA-001668-MR, the Kentucky Court of Appeals finally sought to clarify the proper analysis of the sudden emergency doctrine in the era of pure comparative fault.  On January 21, 2014 Plaintiff, Michael Crister was riding with his wife Judy when their car struck a patch of black ice. As the car began to slide, Judy made the decision to turn the car sharply to the right to avoid a head on collision with another vehicle. As a result of this maneuver, their car was struck from behind by another car that hit the same patch of ice. As a result of the collision Michael was injured and filed suit against Judy. It was undisputed at the time of the accident, that Judy was driving well below the speed limit given the potentially icy conditions of the roadway. Judy filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which the trial court granted.

In upholding the Trial Court, the Kentucky Court of Appeals cited earlier Supreme Court precedent, Henson v. Kline, 319 S.W.3d 413 (Ky. 2010) which established that the sudden emergency doctrine remained viable because it defined the duty of the tortfeasor as “reduced”, rather than addressing allocation of fault. However, the precise meaning of how to analyze this “reduced duty” remained unclear. In Crister, the Kentucky Court of Appeals established the correct analysis. Per the Crister Court a tortfeasor in a sudden emergency is faced with lesser standard of care because the emergency creates a situation in which they must choose between a series of less than desirable outcomes. Therefore, a Plaintiff must provide evidence that the tortfeasor acted in such a manner as to increase the likelihood that they would be involved in an emergency such as driving too fast, or acting in an otherwise negligent manner prior to the emergency. Without such proof, a tortfeasor is free from liability even though the choice made at the time of the emergency may have resulted in the Plaintiff’s injury.

If you have any questions regarding this case or any other issue concerning Commercial Auto or Trucking Liability, call a member of Reminger’s Trucking and Commercial Transportation Practice Group.

This has been prepared for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice or legal opinion and should not be relied upon for individual situations. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between the Reader and Reminger. The information in this document is subject to change and the Reader should not rely on the statements in this document without first consulting legal counsel.

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