Insurance defense attorneys devise crafty arguments in an attempt to win a case outright or to reduce the amount of damages their client must pay to a personal injury victim. One argument that insurance defense lawyers try to use is called the “Sudden Emergency Doctrine.” The insurance company cannot use this argument in every case, but they try to use it as often as they can. As successful and experienced Georgia personal injury lawyers, our experience, and knowledge of the law helps us successfully counter those arguments because we can anticipate when the defense will make them and prepare the appropriate counter-arguments based on the facts.

Georgia courts have long recognized the doctrine of sudden emergency. Application of this defense allows a defendant who caused harm to another to avoid civil liability for damages resulting from the defendant’s actions. The sudden emergency doctrine is an “affirmative defense.” That means the defendant must claim the protection of the doctrine from the beginning of the lawsuit or else a judge could find that it is waived.

The law regarding sudden emergency is succinctly stated. In Georgia, a sudden emergency is a situation in which the defendant is forced to make a quick decision because there is not an abundance of time to think about the best course of action to take. The law states that the defendant is not held to the same standard of reason and judgment as a person who had the luxury of time to think a situation through and take the safest course of action. An example of a sudden emergency defense is if a defendant suddenly changes lanes to avoid being hit by a large tractor trailer, and an accident results with another vehicle. In such a scenario, the defendant was faced with imminent danger and acted to save herself.

The doctrine, like all legal theories, has limits. The defendant could not argue the sudden emergency doctrine if he or she took part in creating the emergency. Additionally, the defendant has no basis to argue sudden emergency if he or she had time to think. It is the lack of time to think that gives the defense its significance. The jury will be asked to examine the defendant’s choice of action in that small amount of time. The defense will be viable if the jury finds the defendant’s choice of action, which might have caused death or serious bodily injury, is not due to carelessness but is due to not having enough time to think and react safely.

Asserting the affirmative defense of sudden emergency does not absolve the defendant from negligent acts. The defendant may be entitled to an instruction by the judge to the jury on the law of sudden emergency. The defendant has an obligation to prove that the doctrine applies to the case. The burden is not high, but the law in Georgia requires that the defendant produce some evidence that the doctrine might apply.

The plaintiff, or party that is claiming damages is not powerless in this situation. The plaintiff can ask a judge for an instruction that balances the weight of the jury instruction of sudden emergency. The jury can-and should- instruct the jury that even though a defendant might claim a sudden emergency excuses him or her from liability, the jury should examine the conduct of the accused to determine whether he or she acted reasonably under the circumstances. If the defendant does not acknowledge that he or she had a choice of action, then the doctrine does not apply. It is also important to realize that the defense only applies to situations that arise after the emergency and not before.

Understanding this doctrine is critical to protecting an injured person’s rights to recover damages. Anticipating this defense allows the experienced and savvy Georgia personal injury lawyer to build a case that proves the plaintiff’s damages while cutting off any affirmative defenses, including the doctrine of sudden emergency.

Put Our Law Firm’s Over 39 Years Of Legal Experience To Work For Your Case!

If you have been injured in any type of accident caused by someone else’s negligence, contact Montlick & Associates today for your free consultation with an experienced Car accident Injury Attorney in Georgia. Montlick & Associates has been representing those who suffer serious injuries throughout all of Georgia and in the Southeast for over 39 years.

No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you. Call us 24 hours a day/7 days a week for your Free Consultation at 1-800-LAW-NEED® (1-800-529-6333). You can also visit us online at and use our Free Case Evaluation Form or 24-hour Live Online Chat.


Smith v. Norfolk Southern Ry. Co., 788 SE 2d 508 – Ga: Court of Appeals 2016

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