In Virginia, if a car accident is caused by the sudden mechanical malfunction of a vehicle, will the driver of that vehicle be considered free of negligence in a personal injury lawsuit arising from the car accident?

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The below information was written by our personal injury lawyers in Virginia Beach.

Maybe. In Virginia, the sudden emergence doctrine will excuse the driver of a vehicle from liability, if certain conditions are met which establish that the driver was responding to a sudden and unexpected emergency at the time of the accident. The Virginia Supreme Court has written that a defendant in a personal injury lawsuit who claims that the sudden emergency doctrine excuses him or her from liability must prove the following:

(1) that the defendant was confronted with an emergency;

(2) that the emergency was not created by the defendant’s negligence; and

(3) that the defendant conducted himself or herself as an ordinarily prudent person would have under the same or similar circumstances.

Furthermore, the Virginia Supreme Court has written that the emergency that confronted the defendant must have been “an unexpected happening, an unforeseen occurrence or condition.” Satisfying the elements of the sudden emergency doctrine is rarely accomplished by defendants in personal injury lawsuits, and for that reason, juries hearing personal injury cases in Virginia are rarely instructed on the sudden emergency doctrine.

In the case of a sudden mechanical malfunction, however, it is possible that a jury hearing a personal injury case could be given an instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine and told that if they determine that the elements of the sudden emergency doctrine have been met, then defendant in the personal injury case will not be considered negligent. One scenario where a defendant in a personal injury case might successfully claim the sudden emergency doctrine would involve the sudden and unexpected malfunction of a car’s accelerator, causing the car to accelerate out of control and strike another vehicle. If the jury hearing the case determines that the sudden and unexpected acceleration was caused by a mechanical malfunction of the car, that the acceleration was not brought on by the negligence of the driver, and that the driver of the vehicle that accelerated out of control conducted himself or herself as an ordinarily prudent person would have under the same or similar circumstances, then the driver of the vehicle that accelerated out of control might be excused from liability for injuries resulting from the car accident.

Questions regarding the application of the sudden emergency doctrine are specific to the individual personal injury case, and we encourage you to contact one of our personal injury lawyers in Virginia Beach.   We can advise the prospective client as to whether the potential defendant in a personal injury lawsuit has a legitimate basis for claiming that the accident was caused by a sudden mechanical malfunction rather than the defendant’s negligence. As in all personal injury cases, an experienced personal injury lawyer can also advise the injured person as to the value of the injury claim, can guide the injured person through the process of making a claim with the applicable insurance company or companies, and can represent the injured person in the litigation of the personal injury claim, if a personal injury lawsuit becomes necessary.

Waiting can hurt your case. To find out how our personal injury lawyers in Virginia Beach can help you, please contact us at (757) 486-2700.

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