Frazier v. Drake – Sudden Emergency and Unavoidable Accident

Two legal doctrines that may limit a plaintiff’s ability to recover from an at-fault driver in a crash case are “sudden emergency” and “unavoidable accident.”
With regard to sudden emergency, the courts in South Carolina recognize that in certain emergency circumstances, drivers can’t be held to the same level care as individuals who act without the time pressure of an emergency situation. It doesn’t mean plaintiff won’t have remedy, but defendant will only be held to to the standard of what a reasonably prudent driver would do under the circumstances of the specific emergency. That can significantly reduce the amount of compensation a plaintiff might receive.

An unavoidable accident, meanwhile, is one in which no one is liable and no one acted negligently or willfully to cause the accident.

In the recent case of Frazier v. Drake, defendant asserted the sudden emergency defense, citing a bee that had flown into the cab of his tractor-trailer.

According to court records in this truck accident case, plaintiff sued the driver of a concrete semitrailer truck on a major road in North Los Vegas.

The driver of that truck would later testify that as he was driving, a number of bees flew into the trucks’ cabin. This version of events was later supported by a police officer’s observation of several dead bees on the front of the truck’s grill, as well as a live bee that was inside the cabin.

Driver stated one of the bees landed on his eye. As he tried to swat the bee away, he failed to observe a stop light. In turn, he rear-ended plaintiffs, whose vehicle was stopped at the red light.

About three years after the complaint was filed – and a month prior to trial – the concrete company made an offer to plaintiffs to settle for a total of $120,000. Plaintiffs rejected this offer.

At trial, defendant driver testified about the bee that had landed on his eye and the fact this amounted to a sudden emergency. Therefore, he only owed a duty of care equal to that a reasonable person would face in the same situation.

Over plaintiff’s objections, trial court instructed jurors on the concept of sudden emergencies. Ultimately, jurors found the case in favor of defendants.

Plaintiffs asked for a new trial, arguing that an instruction on sudden emergencies should not have been given, and the jury ignored the court’s instruction on standard of care. Defense was opposed to the motion, and the court ignored it.

Defense then filed a motion to have plaintiff’s pay for attorney fees and expert witness costs, totaling $107,000. In total, the court ended up awarding defendant $145,000 in attorney’s fees, general costs and expert witness fees.

On appeal, the state supreme court ruled the sudden emergency instruction was appropriate. The court noted defendant presented sufficient evidence through which the jury could determine that, through no fault of his own, he was placed in a dangerous position beyond the ordinary hazards of driving, and that he acted as a reasonably prudent driver would in that situation.

However, the court did reverse the award of attorneys’ fees and expert witness fees, finding that an abuse of discretion.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:
Frazier v. Drake, Sept. 3, 2015, Nevada Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:
NHTSA Updates Alcohol-Impaired Driving Statistics, Sept. 2, 2015, Spartanburg Traffic Accident Lawyer Blog

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