Ohio Appeals Court Says that Motorist Did Not Have to Pay Property Damage Claim Due to “Sudden Emergency” Doctrine

When a Cleveland area car accident occurs, the first thing most people want to know is, ” who’s going to repair my car?” Even before they worry about pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses, and loss of spousal consortium, unless the injuries are serious, accident victims worry about compensation for damage to their  automobile or other property. They need their car to drive to work, run errans, or take the kids to school. But sometimes, the property damaged isn’t a  car or truck, it’s a Cleveland building that’s been struck by a car or truck due to an accident.

Generally speaking, when you seek  compensation for damages caused by  another’s negligence, you have the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the party from whom you seek payment of money damages breached a duty of care and that this breach was a proximate cause of the damages claimed .

A Sudden Emergency May Excuse A Driver’s Negligence

In a recent case considered by the Court of Appeals of Ohio for the Tenth Appellate District, the plaintiff was the owner of a building that was struck by the defendant’s automobile after a collision between the defendant and a third party. According to the defendant, the accident happened when the third party ran a stop sign, struck his vehicle, and propelled it over a curb and into the plaintiff’s property, causing damage to the building.. The building owner claimed that the defendant driver’s negligence in failing to control his car had caused damage to his property and  should therefore pay for the repairs necessary to fix the building.The driver claimed that he was excused from maintaining control of his car after he was hit by the other vehicle  because of the sudden emergency doctrine, which states that when a driver has acted as a reasonably prudent driver would under similar circumstances, than he was in fact not negligent.

The case was first tried to a court magistrate, who found in favor of the defendant, concluding that the defendant had acted reasonably when confronted with a sudden emergency after he was hit by the other car. The building owner appealed.

Decision of the Court

On appeal, the plaintiff heavily criticized the trial court’s reliance upon the sudden emergency doctrine in finding in favor of the defendant. Nevertheless, the court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision in the defendant’s favor.

Under the sudden emergency doctrine, a driver may avoid liability for conduct that would otherwise be deemed negligent  if he or she can prove that driving properly was rendered impossible by a sudden emergency that was not caused by or controlled by that driver. So long as the driver behaved in a reasonably prudent manner under the circumstances, there cannot be a finding of liability against him or her.

According to the court, the defendant did not have to specifically plead the sudden emergency doctrine as a defense in order for the trial court to use the doctrine in finding in his favor in the particular case at bar. In so holding, the court noted that the case had originated as a small claims matter and, as such, was not governed by the civil rules that governed cases in which more money was at stake.

The court disagreed with the plaintiff’s contention that the trial court had improperly placed the burden of disproving the elements of a sudden emergency on the plaintiff, noting that the trial court had correctly required the plaintiff to prove the elements of negligence and the defendant to prove the elements of a sudden emergency.

Speak to a Cleveland Car Accident Attorney

Property damage can be an issue in many Cleveland auto accident lawsuits. Typically, the issue arises when one party seeks payment for damage to his or her automobile, but cases such as the one discussed above also arise occasionally. As in other types of negligence cases, it is important that the aggrieved party speak to an experienced attorney who can assist with his or her claim. To discuss your case with an experienced Cleveland automobile accident lawyer, call Rubin Guttman & Associates, L.P.A. today at 216-696-4006.

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