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Colorado Accident & Injury Law Part VIII: Supreme Court Clarification Application of The Doctrine of Sudden Emergency

September 17, 2009 by The Sawaya Law Firm
  • The Supreme Court in the case of Hesse v. McClintic, 06SC624 on January 14, 2008 gave a pronouncement on the defense of sudden emergency that establishes a standard not heretofore stated by the Colorado appellate courts.
  • Respondent Colleen McClintic was rear-ended by Petitioner Donald Hesse when she slowed for bighorn sheep that had entered her lane of travel on the highway. McClintic brought a negligence claim against Hesse stemming from the accident. Hesse raised the defense of comparative negligence, claiming that McClintic was negligent in failing to pull onto the shoulder instead of slowing in the lane of travel.
  • Quoting the Court, “At the close of evidence, McClintic moved for a directed verdict on the issue of her comparative negligence, which the trial court denied. The jury found McClintic to be thirty percent at fault. The court of appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of the directed verdict motion, holding that as a matter of law, McClintic had no duty to pull onto the shoulder when confronted by animals on the road.. It further held that as a matter of law, McClintic was confronted with a “sudden emergency” and acted reasonably under the circumstances, thereby precluding a finding of breach of duty.”
  • The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, further stating: “We hold that a driver is under a duty to drive with reasonable care, which may be violated in some circumstances by not pulling over. We further hold that Hesse presented sufficient evidence that McClintic acted unreasonably by failing to pull over when confronted by sheep on the road. Thus, we hold that the question of comparative negligence was properly submitted to the jury.”
  • The standard given by Supreme Court in this case is that the trial Court cannot determine, as a matter of law, whether or not there is a circumstance that will always allow a party to be shielded by the doctrine of sudden emergency. That will now always be a question of fact for the jury to determine in its deliberations.

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