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Frazier v. Drake – Sudden Emergency Defense in Car Accidents

Florida law requires drivers to use reasonable care in the operation of their motor vehicle. Failure to do this is met with punishment from the criminal justice system, and sometimes accountability through the civil system when people are hurt or property is damaged.

Generally, “reasonable care” means abiding by all traffic laws and taking every precaution to operate the vehicle safely and avoid accidents.

However, there are some scenarios in which drivers get a pass. It’s not often, and it’s usually not a given. But if a defendant can show he or she was grappling with a “sudden emergency” at the time of accident and that sudden emergency is what caused the accident, it’s likely he or she will evade both criminal charges and civil liability.

Most of the time, when we’re talking about “sudden emergencies,” we’re talking about sudden medical emergencies. These would be situations wherein the individual admits causing the crash, but asserts it was the result of a medical emergency. Some examples might include:

  • Sudden seizure
  • Diabetic reaction
  • Stroke
  • Aneurysm
  • Heart attack

It’s a physical crisis that occurs without warning or expectation in advance that something was going to happen. So while someone who suffers a sudden seizure could potentially claim medical emergency defense, someone with a chronic seizure disorder almost certainly could not because the incident, while involving a sudden onset, was not entirely unexpected.

In addition to medical emergencies, there are also some cases in which other scenarios may be defined as “sudden emergencies.” For example, there was a case out of New York two years ago in which a driver was transporting several of her friends from New Jersey back to Manhattan when a backseat passenger reached forward and untied the strings of her bikini top. As a reflexive action, driver took her hands off the wheel to cover up. This resulted in a horrific crash in which the prankster was killed and several others in the care were seriously injured. One of those injured later sued the driver, but the court ruled – and appellate justices affirmed – this constituted as a sudden emergency.  So what would have been negligent in most other circumstances was not in this case.

That brings us to Frazier v. Drake. This was a more recent case out of Nevada, wherein the Nevada Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict in favor of a car accident defendant who rear-ended plaintiff vehicle with his semi-truck.

According to court records, defendant driver was operating his large truck on a major road in Las Vegas when several bees flew into his cabin. One of those bees landed on his eye. As he tried to swat the stinging bug away, he failed to observe a stop light and rear-ended the plaintiffs who were stopped.

Plaintiffs sued for damages.

Prior to trial, defense offered plaintiffs a total of $120,000 to settle the case, but that offer was rejected.

However at trial, defense prevailed by assertion of the theory that the bee on his eye constituted a sudden emergency. That meant he was only held to a standard of care a reasonable person would follow in the same situation. By this standard, defendant was found not liable for the crash.

Plaintiff attorneys do have to be cautious in cases like these, and be prepared to carefully analyze all relevant facts in order to reach independent conclusions and to gather enough evidence necessary to convince the jury of those conclusions.

Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.

Additional Resources:

Frazier v. Drake., Sept. 3, 2015, Nevada Court of Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Westfield Ins. Co. v. Vandenberg – Boating Injury Insurance Dispute, Aug. 17, 2015, West Palm Injury Lawyer


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