On American Roads, and particularly in California, there does not exist much respect for truck drivers. It is all too common to see everyday vehicles cut-off truck drivers, box them in, prevent them from lane changing, and other dangerous driving habits we almost are almost all guilty of. Additionally, videos have gone viral on social media depicting protests appearing on freeways forcing truck driver’s to brake as quickly as possible to avoid damaging any other vehicles or the protestors themselves. To make matters worse, when one of these events result in the injury of a driver or pedestrian, it is almost always ruled the truck driver’s fault, who could be liable for an exorbitant amount in damages. Fortunately, California has the Sudden Emergency Doctrine, which assists mass transportation drivers in defending themselves in the very situations common drivers subject them to every day.
The Sudden Emergency Doctrine (also referred to as the imminent peril doctrine) removes negligence liability from drivers when (1) there was a sudden and unexpected emergency situation in which someone was in actual or apparent danger of immediate injury; (2) the Defendant (driver) did not cause the emergency; (3) and the driver acted as a reasonably careful person would have acted in similar circumstances, even if it appears that a different course of action would have been safer. This doctrine is properly applied in cases where an unexpected physical danger is presented so suddenly as to deprive the driver of his power of using reasonable judgment. The test to be applied to these situations is whether a standard man in that situation might have taken, and such a course is not negligent even though it led to an injury which might have been prevented by adopting an alternative course of action.
In Shiver v. Laramee (2018) 24 Cal.App.5th 395, a truck driver was found not to be negligent under the Sudden Emergency Doctrine when two vehicles were recklessly entering the freeway, failed to yield to the truck, and a vehicle to the left of the Truck driver’s truck prevented the truck driver from entering into the travel lane, causing the truck driver to collide with one of the entering vehicles who did not yield to the truck. The Truck Driver was said to have been attempting to slow down at this time to avoid contact but there simply was not enough space and distance to prevent the incident.
In Babski v. Lowell (2020) WL 1814677 another Driver was found not to be negligent invoking this doctrine when a vehicle let out a cloud of white smoke from its exhaust so thick and dense that the truck driver has zero visibility and rear ended the vehicle in front of him.
In Pittman v. Bovien (1967) 249 Cal.App.2d 207 the driver was found not to be negligent under this doctrine when the lead vehicle suddenly and drastically applied his brake without any warning in the form of a signal or otherwise, causing the accident.
In Hooper v. Bronson (1954) 123 Cal.App.2d 243 a driver had made a suddent stop in the middle of an intersection in order to complete a left hand turn when it was safest t do so. A truck driver behind him was then unable to stop in time causing a collision between the vehicles. The Court found that the Truck Driver was not negligent under the sudden emergency doctrine.
For Truck drivers involved in a collision where your negligence is not obvious and apparent, it is important to retain attorneys with experience in handling mass transportation suits who understand the difficulties truck drivers face every day on the road. An attorney with a thorough understanding of the sudden emergency/imminent peril doctrines could be the difference between a nuclear verdict and protecting the integrity of your business.