Verdict - Spring 2018 - 12

> HOW I OBTAINED JUSTICE FOR MY CLIENT

Sometimes the
Sudden Emergency
Isn't So Sudden
BY MICHAEL L. NEFF

n elderly, retired postal worker lives in Ohio. Loving baseball, come March there's no place he'd rather be than spring training in
Florida. So, each year, he packs up his Toyota Highlander SUV and drives south, through Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia, to
reach his destination.

Unfortunately, on March 20, 2014, something catastrophic happened. As the man was

his control."

Discovery proceeded in the wrongful death
case while the "breach of contract" action

exiting off Cobb Parkway in Marietta to use

However, plaintiff lawyers shouldn't be

wound its way through federal district court,

the restroom, his foot became "stuck" on the

hamstrung by this doctrine. In fact, when a

the Eleventh Circuit, the Supreme Court of

accelerator. In an effort to avoid hitting a line

defendant invokes the Sudden Emergency

Georgia and back again. Thus, we obtained

of stopped cars in front of him, he chose to

Doctrine in Georgia, it can be a doorway to

justice for the Woodards by battling on two

swerve off the road. He eventually hit a ditch

obtain full discovery - something that can

fronts. This story is about the merits of the

and went airborne, causing a horrific crash

help you debunk this defense. Debunking the

wrongful death front and the lack of merit of

that seriously injured a 24-year-old woman,

defense was the second chapter in our efforts

the tortfeasor's "sudden emergency" defense.

Anna Woodard, and her father, Boris Woodard.

to obtain justice for the Woodard family.

Anna died from her injuries, and Boris was
seriously injured.

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because something happened outside of

The first chapter was defeating a lawsuit
filed against the Woodards by the defendant's

UNDERSTANDING THE SUDDEN
EMERGENCY DOCTRINE

The elderly man claimed he had never had

insurance company. The insurance company's

As a threshold issue, you should understand

his foot "stick" on the accelerator before.

lawsuit against my injured clients alleged

that the Sudden Emergency Doctrine requires

It was totally unforeseen. It was a classic

breach of a purported settlement contract.

that the defendant be free of any negligence.

"Sudden Emergency."

The insurer alleged it had settled with the

The caselaw states that a Sudden Emergency

At least, this is what the defense attorney

Woodards for the $100,000 policy limits even

occurs when a defendant is faced by "sudden

wanted us to believe in the matter of a wrong-

though it did not timely pay the policy limits

peril caused by circumstances in which the

ful death case my firm resolved in January for

in response to our pre-suit demand, which

defendant did not participate," and the cir-

$6.75 million days before trial.

plainly stated "timely payment is an essential

cumstances "offered [the defendant] a choice

But, that wasn't the whole story. And when

element of acceptance." Judge Richard Story

of conduct without time for thought so that

a defendant claims "sudden emergency," that

ruled that the insurer had failed to settle, and

negligence in his choice might be attributable

is your cue to initiate an appropriately detailed

the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals certi-

not to lack of care but to lack of time to assess

inquiry about the defendant's medical history.

fied several questions to the Supreme Court

the situation."3 In other words, a defendant

Over the last 20 years, I've run into the

of Georgia.1 The Supreme Court of Georgia

cannot create the emergency or participate

defense of the Sudden Emergency Doctrine

eventually rejected the insurer's theory that

in the circumstances that caused it and still

several times. It always strikes me as a

O.C.G.A. § 9-11-67.1 allowed it to pay late and

hide behind the Sudden Emergency Doctrine.

thinly-veiled plea for sympathy from the

still settle, and the Eleventh circuit ruled there

defense lawyer. "Don't punish my client

was no settlement. 2

12

Georgia Trial Lawyers Association

Because of this, the Sudden Emergency
Doctrine can be debunked by the doctrine


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Verdict - Spring 2018

President’s Message
How I Obtained Justice: Sudden Emergency Doctrine
Thank You to Outgoing Verdict Chairman, Madeleine Simmons
Look Before You Leap: Conducting Jury Focus Groups Before Trial
Voir Dire In Low Speed, Soft Tissue Injury Cases
Defeating Reptile Theory Motions in Limine
Leading the Jury Down the Right Path: Framing Your Case During Voir Dire
Hernandez v. State: Empowering Jurors to Seek the Truth
Exploding Takata Airbags From Cover-Up To Accountability
Using Simple Technology to Pick a Better Jury
Case Updates: Who Really Loses When Medical Funding Becomes an Issue at Trial?
Professional Practice Pointers: Voir Dire, An interview with Cobb County State Court Judge Allison Barnes Salter
Dig In To Do Good: Making the World a Better Place
Welcome New GTLA Members!
Champion Members
Meet The Experts
Index to Advertisers/Advertiser.com
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Intro
Verdict - Spring 2018 - bellyband1
Verdict - Spring 2018 - bellyband2
Verdict - Spring 2018 - cover1
Verdict - Spring 2018 - cover2
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 3
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 4
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 5
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 6
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 7
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 8
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 9
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 10
Verdict - Spring 2018 - President’s Message
Verdict - Spring 2018 - How I Obtained Justice: Sudden Emergency Doctrine
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 13
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 14
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Thank You to Outgoing Verdict Chairman, Madeleine Simmons
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Look Before You Leap: Conducting Jury Focus Groups Before Trial
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 17
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 18
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 19
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 20
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Voir Dire In Low Speed, Soft Tissue Injury Cases
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 22
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 23
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 24
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 25
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Defeating Reptile Theory Motions in Limine
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 27
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 28
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Leading the Jury Down the Right Path: Framing Your Case During Voir Dire
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 30
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Hernandez v. State: Empowering Jurors to Seek the Truth
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 32
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 33
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Exploding Takata Airbags From Cover-Up To Accountability
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 35
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 36
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Using Simple Technology to Pick a Better Jury
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Case Updates: Who Really Loses When Medical Funding Becomes an Issue at Trial?
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 39
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Professional Practice Pointers: Voir Dire, An interview with Cobb County State Court Judge Allison Barnes Salter
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Dig In To Do Good: Making the World a Better Place
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 42
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Champion Members
Verdict - Spring 2018 - 44
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Meet The Experts
Verdict - Spring 2018 - Index to Advertisers/Advertiser.com
Verdict - Spring 2018 - cover3
Verdict - Spring 2018 - cover4
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