The “Sudden Emergency” Defense

King v. Sawyers

Of several issues present in this case, the focus of this article will be on what is commonly known as the “Sudden Emergency” defense (M CIV JI 12.02).

At 6:20am, on a snowy day in January of 2014, Earl King was struck as he was crossing the road. King was an 82 year old man, who walked using a cane. He was wearing all black clothes. The defendant, Christopher Sawyers, was driving his vehicle at about 25mph due to the poor weather conditions. The police report also shows that he had his headlights on. Sawyers testified that King stepped out in front of him without warning and he was unable to stop before hitting him. King died from his injuries and was never able to communicate what happened. There were no other witnesses.

In Michigan, there is an assured-clear-distance-ahead statute (Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 257.627). This statute requires that a person shall not operate a vehicle upon a highway at a speed greater than that which will permit a stop within the assured, clear distance ahead. A violation of this statute constitutes negligence per se. One way to overcome this presumption is when a sudden emergency or unexpected event takes place, assuming that the emergency is not the fault of the defendant. A sudden emergency can occur when a person is confronted by an emergency not due to his own misconduct (M CIV JI 12.02). A sudden emergency was additionally defined in Vander Laan v. Miedema, as a circumstance when a person is suddenly placed in a position of peril, without any negligence of their own.

The court reasoned that King’s actions did constitute a sudden emergency. The fact that he was walking in the dark, with all black clothes, in a snowstorm, was enough for the court to reverse its order denying the defendant’s renewed motion for summary disposition.

Please contact Andrew Collison with any questions.