Virginia Auto Accidents: VSC Unavoidable Accident & Sudden Emergency – a Lawyer’s Instructions

Virginia Auto Accidents: VSC Unavoidable Accident & Sudden Emergency – a Lawyer’s Instructions

On January 16, 2009, the Virginia Supreme Court issued an opinion rejecting the “unavoidable accident” and “sudden emergency” doctrines and upholding a $490,000.00 jury award in a car accident scenario. The death and personal injury case is Hancock-Underwood v. Knight, 277 Va. 127 (2009).

Hancock-Underwood abrogated the “unavoidable accident” doctrine in Virginia. “In consideration of the prevailing concerns of the [majority] states that have rejected the instruction – that it merely restates the law of negligence, overemphasizes the defendant’s case and is apt to confuse and mislead – we join those states and hold that it is error to grant an unavoidable accident instruction.” Id. at 136.

Also, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the “sudden emergency” doctrine in vehicle accident cases, but found that the “particular instruction tendered by Administrator concerning sudden emergency was not supported by the evidence”. Id. at 139. Specifically, the defendant driver experiencing a medical event that rendered him unconscious did not fit the following formulation: “when the driver of an automobile, without prior negligence on his part, is confronted with a sudden emergency and acts as an ordinarily prudent person would have done under the same or similar circumstances, he is not guilty of negligence.” Id. at 726.