In a great decision for Plaintiffs in Colorado, on January 22, 2013 the state’s Supreme Court ruled to abolish the sudden emergency doctrine stating “its minimal utility in Colorado’s comparative negligence scheme is greatly outweighed by the instruction’s danger of misleading the jury.”  Prior to this holding, the sudden emergency doctrine recognized “that a person confronted with sudden or unexpected circumstances calling for immediate attention is not expected to exercise the judgment of one acting under normal conditions.”  Essentially the sudden emergency doctrine provided an opportunity for a Defendant to excuse his negligence if the jury determined he had been faced with a sudden emergency and acted as another reasonable person would have in those circumstances.

 

Although the sudden emergency doctrine had look been a valid defense in Colorado, the Court determined that the instruction was no longer necessary as it is needlessly repetitive of the negligence instruction. The Court found that the “same or similar circumstances” phrase in the general negligence and specific reasonable care instructions was a sufficient standard of care instruction and encompassed “all circumstances, including those of sudden emergency.”

 

In addition to being duplicative, the Court opined that the doctrine risked  misleading the jury for the following 4 reasons:

1.  it fails to instruct the jury to find two important facts before applying the doctrine- these two facts being whether there was actually a sudden emergency and that the emergency was not caused by the Defendant;

2.  it does not define “sudden emergency”;

3.  it implies that sudden emergency situations require a standard of care; and

4.   it focuses the jury’s attention on events that transpired during and after the emergency rather than on the totality of the circumstances.

For these reasons, the sudden emergency doctrine is no longer a valid defense in Colorado.  For more about this case, see Bedor v. Johnson, 2013 CO 4.

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