Unfortunately, Maryland drivers encounter dangerous situations all the time—a car stopped in the middle of the road, debris blocking the roadway, or even a chain-reaction crash. Yet, even when a Maryland driver encounters a dangerous situation, the driver must respond reasonably to the situation under the circumstances. Failure to do so may make the driver liable for resulting injuries. Under Maryland law, a driver who “suddenly finds himself in a position of peril” is not expected to exercise the same care as when the driver has sufficient time to decide what he should do. This is known as the emergency doctrine and may apply in some Maryland accident cases. However, the doctrine does not apply when the peril comes about because of the driver’s own negligence or if the driver is not actually in a position of sudden peril. Where a driver does take an action in response to the emergency, a jury (or judge) must consider whether the driver made a choice that a reasonable, prudent person would make considering the choices he had and the time he had to recognize and evaluate those choices.
In a recent case involving the sudden emergency doctrine before one state appellate court, the court explained how and where the sudden emergency doctrine applies under that state’s law. In that case, the defendant was driving on the highway and changed lanes and passed a stopped vehicle to avoid crashing into the stopped vehicle. The plaintiff’s husband’s vehicle was behind the defendant’s vehicle and crashed into the stopped vehicle. The plaintiff’s husband died and the plaintiff filed a wrongful death action against the defendant and others.
The defendant argued that the sudden emergency doctrine applied and acted as a complete defense. The defendant argued that the sudden emergency was the stopped car that he encountered in the road. The plaintiff argued that the defendant created the emergency by changing lanes at an unreasonably late time for the plaintiff’s husband to see the stopped car. The plaintiff argued that the sudden emergency was the husband’s inability to see the stopped car because of the defendant’s late lane change.