The Sudden Emergency Doctrine

Under the “sudden emergency doctrine,” a person is not liable for his reasonable response to a sudden emergency, so long as the person did not create the emergency. The sudden emergency doctrine may be used as a defense to a personal injury action.

For example, parents throw a birthday party for their child at their house. The house has a swimming pool in the backyard. During the party, a child falls into the swimming pool. An adult guest jumps into the pool to save the drowning child. In the process of dragging the child out of the pool, the guest accidentally breaks the child’s arm. The parents of the injured child file a personal injury action against the guest. The guest may defend the action by claiming that he was responding to a sudden emergency. If the court determines that the guest was responding to a sudden emergency and his response was reasonable, then the guest will not be liable for the injury to the child. However, if the guest accidentally knocked the child into the pool, and then broke the child’s arm while trying to save him or her, then the guest cannot use the sudden emergency doctrine as a defense because he created the emergency.

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