North Carolina Appellate Court Discusses Sudden Emergency Doctrine in Bicycle Accident Involving Fallen Powerline

Many people choose a bicycle for commuting or taking care of daily errands to improve their health and to spend less time driving. Even though some cities go to great lengths to try and keep cyclists safe, many motorists simply do not pay enough attention to the roadway. Municipalities and utilities are also responsible for keeping common areas of travel safe for cyclists and often fail to act according to this duty. This results in devastating injury accidents for cyclists. At Burton Law Firm, our Raleigh personal injury attorney is available to discuss your potential bicycle accident lawsuit and whether you may be entitled to compensation.

Recently, two plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against a utility company alleging that each were injured when they collided with a utility line that was hanging at ground level. The jury concluded that the defendant was negligent and that the plaintiffs were not contributorily negligent. This is a doctrine that allows a jury to consider whether the plaintiff’s conduct contributed to his or her injuries. If the jury finds that it did, the plaintiff is barred from recovering damages. The defendant appealed the outcome of the case on the basis that the plaintiff was contributorily negligent.

On review, the appellate court noted evidence in the record showing that severe weather had caused the power line to fall and the defendant received notice that the line had fallen that same day. The record also showed that the first plaintiff collided with the power line and the second cyclist collided with the first. The second cyclist alleged that she did not have time to stop or otherwise avoid hitting the first cyclist. The defendant argued that the second plaintiff was negligent for following too closely.

The appellate court concluded that the lower court provided the wrong jury instructions to the jury. More specifically, the lower court committed a reversible error by instructing the jury about a doctrine called sudden emergency. This doctrine led the jury to conclude that neither plaintiff contributed to his or her injuries. This doctrine is used in situations where a party is deemed to have acted reasonably in responding to a sudden emergency that he or she did not cause.

There was not enough evidence in the record to support a finding that the second plaintiff was responding to a sudden emergency. The fact that the defendant acted negligently by failing to take care of the fallen wire did not cause the plaintiff to fail to keep a proper lookout or to travel at a safe distance from the other cyclist. This doctrine would only apply if the plaintiffs were keeping a proper lookout and a sudden event happened like a vehicle coming across their path causing them to touch the wire.

If you were hurt in a personal injury accident you probably have several questions about the North Carolina Court system and whether you should file a lawsuit. Attorney Burton offers a free consultation to discuss your situation and whether he may be able to assist you in recovering compensation. Call him today at 833-623-0042 or contact him online to get started.

Scroll to Top