New York’s highest court recently ruled that the glare of the setting sun is not an emergency and thus not an applicable defense for negligent drivers that cause auto accidents and fatalities on New York’s roadways. The ruling may make it easier for some accident victims to recover damages for injuries caused by at-fault drivers.

The Emergency Doctrine

Under New York state law, drivers faced with emergency situations are not held to the same standards of judgment and conduct that apply to drivers under ordinary circumstances. Therefore, when dealing with sudden and unexpected emergencies, the law excuses drivers of certain acts that would otherwise be considered negligent. This is known as the “emergency doctrine.”

Judge Rejects “Glare” Excuse

In February of 2000, a pedestrian was struck and killed by a vehicle in Syracuse. Faced with a civil lawsuit brought by the victim’s family, the vehicle’s driver, Derek Klink, argued that he was facing an emergency situation (he was temporarily blinded by the setting sun) when the accident occurred and therefore should not be responsible.

However, the court rejected Klink’s line of reasoning. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman pointed out that the sun is “well known, and therefore cannot be considered a sudden and unexpected circumstance.” He further stated that, “The sun can interfere with one’s vision as it nears the horizon at sunset, particularly when one is heading west.” Klink had been turning westward late in the afternoon when the accident occurred.

Because personal injury lawsuits often hinge on whether or not a defendant acted negligently, the emergency doctrine creates an obstacle for accident victims seeking to recover damages for their injuries. The recent ruling protects New York motor vehicle accident victims by eliminating a potential loophole that could have allowed some negligent drivers to escape accountability for the injuries they cause.