"EMERGENCY DOCTRINE" APPLIED TO MULTI-VEHICLE CROSS-OVER AUTO ACCIDENT; SUMMARY JUDGMENT & CASE DISMISSAL GRANTED TO ONE CAR

Court: Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department, New York

Case: Ardila v. Cox

Date: Oct. 18, 2011

From: New York attorney Gary E. Rosenberg (personal injury and accident attorney and lawyer; serving Brooklyn and Queens; Queens accident attorney)

Comment: The "emergency doctrine" is an occasionally-used neat little trick to let a defendant out of an accident case on a summary judgment motion--without necessity of a trial. When faced with an emergency not of the defendant's own making, if the defendant acts reasonably under the circumstances, he or she can't be held liable (responsible) for negligence.

Here, a car crossed over the center of a roadway and hit the plaintiff, and a following oil tanker-truck was unable to avoid hitting the plaintiff's car after she spun out. The driver of the oil tanker-truck did the best he could but was unable to avoid the accident; under the emergency doctrine he can't be held at fault and is dismissed from the case. This leaves the crossing-over vehicle to take the blame. As it should.

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In an action, inter alia, to recover damages for personal injuries, the plaintiff appeals, as limited by his brief, from so much of an order of the Supreme Court, Westchester County (O. Bellantoni, J.), entered July 2, 2010, as granted that branch of the motion of the defendants Matthew L. Balch and Francis J. Mayer which was for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against them.

ORDERED that the order is affirmed insofar as appealed from, with costs.

On April 12, 2007, at approximately 11:00 A.M., the plaintiff was driving eastbound on a three‑lane highway, of which two lanes were dedicated to eastbound travel and the remaining lane was dedicated to westbound travel. Behind the plaintiff, also traveling eastbound, were the defendants Matthew L. Balch, who was operating an oil tanker truck owned by the defendant Francis J. Mayer, and Michael Hartnett, who was operating a sedan owned by the defendant Luisa Hartnett. Traveling in the opposite direction was the defendant Julie Cox, who was operating a Jeep owned by the defendant Jonathan Cox. The road surface was wet due to rainfall. As Cox approached a slight right curve in the road, she crossed over the double‑yellow line and into the eastbound lanes of traffic. Cox's Jeep collided with the plaintiff's vehicle, causing the plaintiff's car to spin counterclockwise and come to rest in the right eastbound lane. Cox's Jeep also spun counterclockwise but returned to the westbound lane. Upon seeing Cox's Jeep cross the double‑yellow line, Balch applied the brakes on the oil tanker truck and swerved to the right, moving the truck from the left eastbound lane to the right eastbound lane where he collided with the plaintiff's car. Hartnett's car collided with the back of Balch's oil tanker truck.

The plaintiff commenced the instant action against the Coxes, the Hartnetts, Balch, and Mayer. Balch and Mayer moved for, among other things, summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against them, contending that Balch acted reasonably in response to an emergency situation not of his own making. The Supreme Court granted that branch of the motion which was for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against Balch and Mayer, and the plaintiff appeals. We affirm the order insofar as appealed from.

The emergency doctrine provides that "when an actor is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance which leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation or consideration, or causes the actor to be reasonably so disturbed that the actor must make a speedy decision without weighing alternative courses of conduct, the actor may not be negligent if the actions taken are reasonable and prudent in the emergency context" (Rivera v. New York City Tr. Auth., 77 N.Y.2d 322, 327; see Jablonski v. Jakaitis, 85 AD3d 969, 970; Brannan v. Korn, 84 AD3d 1140, 1140). "Although the existence of an emergency and the reasonableness of the response to it generally present issues of fact, those issues may in appropriate circumstances be determined as a matter of law" (Vitale v. Levine, 44 AD3d 935, 936 [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]; see Brannan v. Korn, 84 AD3d 1140; Jones v. Geoghan, 61 AD3d 638, 639). "A driver is not obligated to anticipate that a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction will cross over into oncoming traffic. Such an event constitutes a classic emergency situation, thus implicating the 'emergency doctrine' " (Gajjar v. Shah, 31 AD3d 377, 377-378; see Palma v. Garcia, 52 AD3d 795; Williams v. Econ, 221 A.D.2d 429; Greifer v. Schneider, 215 A.D.2d 354, 356).

Here, the defendants Balch and Mayer submitted sufficient evidence to establish, prima facie, that Balch was presented with an emergency situation not of his own making when Cox's Jeep crossed over the double‑yellow line, and that he acted reasonably in response to that emergency by applying the brakes and swerving to the right (see Palma v. Garcia, 52 AD3d 795; Marsch v. Catanzaro, 40 AD3d 941, 942; Wenz v. Shafer, 293 A.D.2d 742; Lyons v. Rumpler, 254 A.D.2d 261, 262). In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact (see Alvarez v. Prospect Hosp., 68 N.Y.2d 320, 324; Zuckerman v. City of New York, 49 N.Y.2d 557, 562). Accordingly, the Supreme Court properly granted that branch of the motion of the defendants Balch and Mayer which was for summary judgment dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against them.

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