In 2005, Betty Schmidt rear-ended Dennis Hagenow, totaling his vehicle. Hagenow filed a lawsuit against Schmidt claiming negligence and the case went to court. Schmidt alleged that she was not negligent because she suffered a stroke, causing partial loss of sight in her eye, prior to the accident.
The trial judge informed the jury about Sudden Emergency Defense, a legal doctrine that permits a jury to find that a person causing an accident was not in fact negligent. The jury ruled in favor of Schmidt.
The Supreme Court upheld the defense verdict, and addressed two key topics.
First, the Court addressed whether Schmidt’s doctor, whose opinions were provided shortly before trial, should have been permitted to testify. The Court ruled that the doctor was permitted to testify because Hagenow was allowed time to get a rebuttal expert, and Hagenow did not request a continuance of the trial. This holding reflects our Court’s long-standing practice of flexibility with deadlines in an attempt to seek the truth at trial.
The second key topic was whether Schmidt could escape liability through Sudden Emergency Defense based on her claim that she suffered a stroke, causing partial loss of sight while driving. The Court ruled that the defense was properly submitted to the jury, and the medical evidence supported the jury’s verdict finding Schmidt was not at fault for the accident.
This case is a prime example of why even clear cut, rear-end accidents may not be so clear cut. We recommend an early consultation with a counsel to allow all potential defenses such as the Sudden Emergency Doctrine to be reviewed, addressed, and handled by experienced attorneys.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, please do not hesitate to call The Beattie Law Firm today for a free consultation.