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The Wardrobe Failure Defense Works

January 7, 2014
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Our New York City car accident lawyers keep up to date with the various developments on the law involving car accidents. In an extremely unusual application of the emergency situation defense, a Rockland County jury found that a driver who experienced a wardrobe malfunction was not responsible for a fatal accident which occurred when she took her hands off the steering wheel, while speeding and caused a fatality. In a stranger twist, the Second Department Appellate Division, which has grown more and more conservative over the years, actually affirmed the verdict.

Our White Plains car accident lawyers have seen many bogus claims of the emergency doctrine and have always been able to defeat it. In general a careless driver is responsible for the consequences of their failure to maintain control of their vehicle or keep a proper lookout. However, the emergency doctrine recognizes that when a driver is confronted with a sudden and unexpected emergency, which their own actions did not contribute to, they are relieved of liability for an accident. Typical situations in which the doctrine had been implied included situations where debris falls off a truck, which causes a vehicle to swerve or a car suddenly crossing a travel lane or an accident ahead of the car and there are only seconds to respond to the sudden and unforeseen emergency.

The recent Rockland wrongful death car accident case arose from an unusual case where a female driver who was driving while wearing a bikini, crashed her vehicle when a male companion, pulled the string of her bikini which caused her breasts to be exposed. The jury found that the emergency doctrine applied when she took her hands off of the steering wheel to cover her breasts and lost control of the vehicle. Even though the male companion had engaged in similar horseplay earlier and the girl was speeding, the Appellate Court found that the trial court properly gave the jury the emergency doctrine instruction by making a threshold determination that there was some reasonable view of the evidence supporting the occurrence of a qualifying emergency. In other words, the Court found that the verdict was proper so long as there reasonable view of the evidence that the driver’s actions were caused by a sudden and unexpected circumstance. The Appellate Court went on to note that it was for the jury to decide whether the driver was faced with a sudden and unforeseen emergency not of her own making and, if so, whether her response to the situation was one which a reasonable person would have responded. The attorneys made a reasoned argument that since horseplay and distracting behavior by the passenger had been going on for some time, the doctrine did not apply because the driver continued to speed and had at least some warning that the passenger would attempt to pull her bikini strings, since he had unsuccessfully tried the same thing a few minutes prior. In other words, she should have anticipated the action and taken appropriate cautionary steps.

 
The Law Offices of Michael H. Joseph