A Circuit Court Judge in Virginia recently commented to me and other counsel that the defense of sudden emergency is “dead” in Virginia. I think the Judge was being somewhat facetious in order to underscore the significance of a recent Virginia Supreme Court decision, but the question remains — does sudden emergency still exist in Virginia?
On September 15, 2006, the Supreme Court of Virginia announced its decision in Herr v. Wheeler , 272 Va. 310, 634 S.E.2d 317. In that case Wheeler loses control of her vehicle in heavy rain when it hydroplanes on the wet roadway and suddenly crosses into Herr’s lane of travel. Wheeler had known of the slipperiness of the roadway, and was being “cautious.” The Herr Court (at 288) found that the trial court erred in granting Wheeler’s request for a “sudden emergency” instruction, holding that:
[W]hen abnormal conditions are known and the heightened hazards they create are reasonably foreseeable, the standard of ordinary care the law imposes is higher. Where nature has created hazardous conditions on a highway, and such hazardous conditions are open and obvious, the operator of a motor vehicle is required to take care in the operation of his vehicle proportionate to the known dangerous condition of the highway.