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What is the emergency doctrine?

zThe emergency doctrine is a legal principle that allows a person to take certain actions in an emergency situation free from recrimination. The emergency doctrine often excuses a person from a reasonable care standard in an emergency situation.


What qualifies as an “emergency?”

An emergency situation is a situation in which imminent peril or danger is present.

Any of the following may qualify as an emergency situation.

According to an outline of torts provided by the New York University School of Law, the emergency doctrine states that a person confronting an emergency not of his or her own making is “required to exhibit only an honest exercise of judgment.”

What’s the reasonable care standard?

The reasonable care standard refers to any actions that a reasonable person would normally take. In the event of an emergency, the emergency doctrine excuses a person from this reasonable care standard. For example, a driver crashing his or her car into another vehicle is usually considered unreasonable, as it is not an action that a normal, responsible person choose to take.

However, if the driver hit the other vehicle as a result of an emergency – perhaps to avoid hitting a pedestrian – the then reasonable care standard may not apply. Instead, the emergency doctrine would be applicable.

Can I file a lawsuit against a person who injured me in an emergency situation?

Negligence is the legal term used to describe a person’s violation of the standard of reasonable behavior or care, such as acting illegally. In an emergency situation, though, a person may not be held liable for their actions if the actions were made in a reasonable manner. In the example above, the driver that hit the other vehicle while avoiding hitting a pedestrian may not be held liable.

Or, if a citizen was performing emergency CPR on an accident victim, but caused injury to the victim during the CPR, then the citizen may not be held liable because of his or her good faith effort. To file a lawsuit and claim damages for any injuries caused by another person, you will have to prove that the person acted negligently.

If an emergency situation was present, the person responsible for your injuries may use the emergency doctrine as a defense. Pennsylvania courts have acknowledged the emergency doctrine as a relevant defense, such as in Lockhart v. List.

Do I need an attorney?

If you’ve been involved in an accident with significant damages or injuries then you need an attorney. If the accident occurred during an emergency situation, but you believe that the person who caused your injuries acted irresponsibly, an attorney can help you to prove that the other person failed to exercise reasonable judgment. At Cordisco & Saile Law, LLP, our attorneys can help defend your rights. Call us today at 215-642-2335 to get started.