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Black Ice- The Emergency Doctrine

February 4th, 2014
So, you were foolish enough to stay in New York instead of moving to Miami?  Okay, we all can’t retire and drink margaritas on the beach.  Picture this scenario: yesterday morning, when it was 20 degrees God dropped 12 inches of snow on Long Island.  Later in the afternoon the temperature rose to 50 degrees and the sun partially melted the snow.  Overnight the temperature dropped again to 20 degrees and the road became slick in some places with dreaded “black ice.”   Then, the temperature rose again and the sun shone down as you drove to work this morning.  Whether you believe the scientific warnings of “Global Climate Change” or the guy with the placard on 42nd St. and Broadway warning that the “End is Near,” these erratic weather patterns are a fact of life in the Northeast.
To continue our hypothetical, the driver immediately behind you collides into the rear of your car.  “It wasn’t my fault,” he claims.  He didn’t know that the road was slick and he ran into your car even though he was driving carefully.  Ordinarily, under New York law, a driver who strikes the rear of a car in front of his is presumed to be negligent.  But what if he was driving carefully and tried to stop  but couldn’t because the road was too slippery.  Is he still negligent?   The “Emergency Doctrine” exonerates him if he is faced with a sudden condition, which he could not have reasonably anticipated. Not to worry, the doctrine only applies if he’s faced with a sudden condition which he could not have reasonably anticipated.  Whether the driver believes in climate change or not, he should have anticipated that there “could” be black ice on the roadway.  Under these circumstances the Emergency Doctrine will not apply and his conduct is negligent.

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