Many car accidents are due to clear negligence by another driver. Drivers who speed, drive while distracted, run through red lights, drive while intoxicated, or violate other Tennessee traffic laws deserve to be held liable for the accidents they cause. These drivers should pay your medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and other damages. If they kill a loved one, they should pay wrongful death damages.
There are some accidents, though, where the person who drove into your vehicle or caused your vehicle to crash did act responsibly – meaning they acted the way any reasonable driver would have acted in that particular situation. In cases like these, whether you have a right to file a lawsuit and who is responsible for your injuries or the death of a loved one often depends on various factors. In cases where you cannot file a lawsuit, you may still seek damages from your own insurance company.
What is the “sudden emergency” doctrine?
Some accidents are unavoidable. In Tennessee, defendants may assert in defense to a personal injury claim, such as a car accident, that the accident was due to a “sudden emergency,” and not to their own negligence. In asserting this defense, the defendant has the burden of proving that the accident was due to a sudden emergency.
The basic requirements for the sudden emergency defense include:
- Showing that the defendant did encounter a sudden event that was unexpected.
- Showing that the defendant was not the cause of the sudden emergency.
- Proving that the defendant’s conduct was reasonable after the sudden emergency occurred.
A few examples where the sudden emergency defense may apply include the following:
- A child runs after a baseball that rolls into the street. When a driver swerves to avoid the child, the driver strikes your car. A dog or another animal running into the street may also create a sudden emergency.
- A sudden thunderstorm forces all drivers on the road to stop or slow down. As the defendant slows down, he or she rear-ends your vehicle.
- Objects suddenly fall into the path of a driver, like cargo from a truck or a branch from a tree.
Examples of conditions that are not emergencies include failing to slow down when a predictable rainstorm develops, or when a construction site warns drivers that the drivers need to change lanes because of construction work ahead.
A driver likely suffers a sudden emergency due to a health condition, such as a heart attack or seizure while driving – provided the driver followed the recommendations of his/her doctor. For example, if a driver took drugs that he/she knew would make him/her drowsy, the driver cannot assert the sudden emergency doctrine if driver fatigue caused the accident.
Our Memphis car accident lawyers will explain when and how the sudden emergency doctrine applies in Tennessee.
Liability in Memphis accidents caused by third parties
In many cases, a third party may be responsible for an accident when a second party acted responsibly. For example, your accident may occur when a driver (the second party) swerves to avoid cargo that falls from a truck. The truck driver and the trucking companies responsible for the delivery are the third parties. The truck driver and trucking companies should be held liable for your injuries if they failed to properly load the cargo, loaded too much cargo, or the truck driver failed to stop and get off the road when the cargo shifted.
The second party, the driver who struck your car when he/she swerved, may be able to assert the sudden emergency doctrine if they acted cautiously. On the other hand, the driver may be liable if he or she was distracted at the time of the cargo spill and paying proper attention would have avoided the need to swerve into your car.
Likewise, if a driver has a heart attack due to being struck by a third vehicle, then you can file a liability claim against the driver of the third vehicle, but probably not against the driver who had the heart attack.
Filing claims against your own insurance company
It can be quite maddening to be involved in an accident caused by a sudden emergency. After all, you did everything you were supposed to – why shouldn’t you be compensated for your damages? Two of the ways you can recover compensation for your injuries are as we previously discussed – either to show that a third party caused the accident, or to show that the sudden emergency doctrine does not apply.
A third option is to file claims with your own insurance carriers. If you have your own health insurance policy, you can request that your carrier pays for your medical bills. If you have collision insurance, you can request that your insurance company pays for the damage to your car.
You may also be able to file a claim with your uninsured/underinsured carrier. Normally, your UM/UIM carrier pays for your medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, scarring and disfigurement, and other damages when the responsible defendant is not insured or does not have enough insurance. Our Memphis car accident lawyers will explain whether you can file a claim with your UM/UIM carrier if the defendant successfully asserts the sudden emergency doctrine.
At Bailey & Greer, PLLC, our Memphis and Jackson car accident lawyers work to determine why your car accidents happened and who is responsible. We understand and anticipate the defenses that insurance companies and defense lawyers usually assert. In cases where a driver loses control of his/her vehicle through no fault of his/her own, we work to determine if that driver should still be held liable, whether a third party may be liable, and whether you have other remedies.
We demand compensation for all your economic damages and personal damages. To schedule a free consultation, please call us at 901-475-7434 or fill out our contact form. Our Memphis car accident lawyers have been fighting for personal injury victims for more than 35 years. We file personal injury claims for accident victims and wrongful death claims for families when a loved one is killed in an accident.
As founder of Bailey & Greer, R. Sadler Bailey has battled his fair share of insurance giants and wrongdoers and has achieved numerous multimillion-dollar results for the victims of catastrophic injuries and their families. What’s more, he has been involved in more than 40 appellate court decisions affecting Tennessee personal injury law, including many landmark appearances before the Tennessee Supreme Court.
Read more about R. Sadler Bailey