Legal Memorandum: Emergency Doctrine in a Rear End Collision

Issue: What factors are to be considered when attempting to meet the standard for application of the emergency doctrine in a rear end collision in New York?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Rear end collision; Emergency doctrine
Jurisdiction: New York
Cited Cases: 645 N.Y.S.2d 878; 726 N.Y.S.2d 510; 813 N.Y.S.2d 397; 77 N.Y.2d 322; 707 N.Y.S.2d 571
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 05/01/2010

The Court of Appeals explains the emergency doctrine as follows:

This doctrine recognizes 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. A person in such an emergency situation “cannot reasonably be held to the same accuracy of judgment or conduct as one who has had full opportunity to reflect, even though it later appears that the actor made the wrong decision … If, under some reasonable view of the evidence, an actor was confronted by a sudden and unforeseen occurrence not of the actor’s own making, then the reasonableness of the conduct in the face of the emergency is for the jury, which should be appropriately instructed.


Rivera v. New York City Transit Auth., 77 N.Y.2d 322, 327, 569 N.E.2d 629, 631 (1991).

First, for the sudden emergency doctrine to apply at all, the emergency must not involve a situation that was caused or contributed to by the party who asserts it. Stewart v. Ellison, 28 A.D.3d 252, 813 N.Y.S.2d 397, 399 (1st Dep’t 2006) (“A party may not rely on the emergency doctrine if he or she caused or contributed to the […]

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