Michigan Court of Appeals; Docket #356864; Unpublished
Judges Cameron, O’Brien, and Swartzle; Per Curiam
Official Michigan Reporter Citation: Not Applicable; Link to Opinion
Sudden Emergency Doctrine
In this unanimous, unpublished, per curiam decision, the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order dismissing Plaintiff Preng Deda’s auto negligence action against Defendant Louis Joseph Winters, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. The Court of Appeals held that a question of fact existed as to whether Winters was negligent in rear-ending Deda’s vehicle on the highway, or whether Deda unexpectedly swerved into Winters’s lane and slammed on his brakes in front of Winters, thereby creating a sudden emergency for Winters.
Preng Deda was driving eastbound on a four-lane highway, in the second lane from the left, when he observed a police cruiser in the right shoulder lane turn its lights on and begin driving westbound against traffic. Deda testified that, upon seeing the police cruiser, he and the vehicles in front of him braked, as a result of which he was rear-ended and forced into the far-left lane, where he was rear-ended a second time. One of the vehicles that hit Deda was driven by Louis Winters, although it was unclear which. Shortly after the crash, Winters provided a recorded statement in which he acknowledged driving behind and in the same lane as Deda just prior to the crash. He claimed to have driven around a big curve in the highway when he noticed ‘a police chase going westbound on the eastbound side of the freeway,’ which prompted all the vehicles in front of him to ‘just [slam] on their brakes to try to avoid it.’ Winters claimed he, too, ‘hit his brakes really hard,’ but that his vehicle ‘just didn’t stop,’ and that, as a result, he had to try to ‘swerve’ to the left to avoid rear-ending Deda’s vehicle, which he could not do in time.
Deda claimed to have suffered injuries as a result of the crash and subsequently filed the underlying third-party action against Winters. At some point, Winters underwent a deposition, and his version of how the crash occurred changed considerably. He now testified that Deda was traveling in the lane to his right and that, upon seeing the police chase, Deda swerved to his right, into Winters’s lane, and immediately slammed on his brakes. Winters denied ever claiming that his brakes did not work and denied trying to swerve to avoid Deda’s vehicle. Based on this new version of events, Winters moved for summary disposition, arguing that he was not negligent, but was rather confronted with a sudden emergency in the form of Deda swerving into his lane unexpectedly and slamming on the brakes. The trial court agreed with Winters, granting his motion.
The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s summary disposition order, holding that a question of fact existed as to how the crash occurred and whether Winters was truly presented with a sudden emergency in the form of Deda swerving into his lane and slamming on his brakes unexpectedly. It was up to the trier of fact to weigh their conflicting testimonies.
“A question of fact exists as to whether plaintiff and Winters were traveling in the same lane before the collision occurred, and the question of fact is material to the outcome of this case. The location of the vehicles in the time leading up to the accident is important because, as already stated, ‘[t]o come within the narrow confines of the emergency doctrine as ‘unsuspected’ it is essential that the potential peril had not been in clearview for any significant length of time, and was totally unexpected.’ Vander Laan, 385 Mich at 232. If the trier of fact believes the version of events contained in Winters’s recorded statement and concludes that Winters’s vehicle was the vehicle that plaintiff described as ‘going fast,’ the trier of fact could conclude that the emergency was not ‘totally unexpected’ because Winters had sufficient time to observe the potential peril, i.e., the slowing traffic, but did not react in a prudent manner. Importantly, Winters’s testimony supports that ‘[i]t was . . . [a] [n]ice, clear night,’ thereby supporting that Winters’s vision was not obstructed by ‘a phenomenon of nature.’ See id. A rational trier of fact could also find that slowing traffic, regardless of the reason, is a common occurrence that motorists face and is therefore not unusual. On the other hand, if the trier of fact finds that plaintiff’s vehicle unexpectedly veered into Winters’s lane and that Winters did not have time to avoid the collision, the sudden-emergency doctrine may apply. Furthermore, the trier of fact could conclude that a sudden emergency existed because police cruisers were traveling westbound on the eastbound side of I-696 in the time leading up to the collision. Because material questions of fact exist, the trial court erred by granting summary disposition in favor of Winters.”