Sudden Emergency, Uninterrupted
Valerie A. Taylor n/k/a Valerie Backus v. Lindsey V. Wheeler n/k/a Lindsey Woodard: An Alabama jury’s defense verdict will not be interrupted even when the evidence that a sudden emergency caused an accident is scant and conflicted.
On the evening of December 6, 2007, a vehicle being driven by Valerie Taylor/Backus rear-ended a vehicle being driven by Lindsey Wheeler/Woodard. Almost two years later, Lindsey sued Valerie, alleging claims of negligent and wanton conduct. Valerie raised the affirmative defense of sudden emergency.
Sudden Emergency Standard
Under Alabama law, if a person, without fault of her own, is faced with a sudden emergency, she is not to be held to the same correctness of judgment and action as if she had time and opportunity to fully consider the situation. The standard of care required in an emergency situation is that care which a reasonably prudent person would have exercised under the same or similar circumstances. In order for the sudden emergency doctrine to be applicable, there must be (1) a sudden emergency, and (2) the sudden emergency must not be the fault of the one seeking to invoke the doctrine.
Evidence (or Lack of Evidence) of Sudden Emergency
Lindsey offered testimony that her vehicle was at a complete stop when Valerie struck her from behind. Valerie testified on direct examination that Lindsey had not stopped in an “emergency fashion,” but on cross-examination, Valerie’s lawyer elicited testimony from her that Lindsey had stopped suddenly and as a result, Valerie struck Lindsey’s vehicle. Valerie further testified, “I tried to stop, but it wasn’t successful and I hit her.” There was no further evidence of a sudden emergency.
The judge gave the jury instructions on both negligence and sudden emergency. The jury entered a defense verdict in Valerie’s favor. Upon considering a post-trial motion by Lindsey, the trial court found that the jury had entered its verdict against the great weight of the evidence, and the court awarded Lindsey a new trial. Valerie appealed to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Valerie A. Taylor n/k/a Valerie Backus v. Lindsey V. Wheeler n/k/a Lindsey Woodard [Ms. 2150776], — So.3d — (Ala.Civ.App. Dec. 14, 2016).
Under Alabama law, jury verdicts are presumed correct, but a trial court may grant a new trial when it “believes that justice demands that a new trial be granted on the great weight and preponderance ground.” A granting of a new trial based solely on the ground that the verdict was against the great weight or preponderance of the evidence will be reversed for abuse of discretion where the appellate court easily perceives from the record the jury verdict is supported by the evidence. The appellate court found this case to be a “close call.”
Ultimately, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals determined that the trial court erred in granting a new trial. It found there was “some evidence of a sudden emergency” but also that the jury may not have reached its verdict solely on the issue of sudden emergency. Rather, the jury may have found that Valerie was not negligent. Moreover, there was conflicting testimony regarding the circumstances of the accident, and the resolution of conflicting facts lies solely within the province of the trier of fact (in this case, the jury). The appellate court found that the jury had properly exercised its duty to resolve fact conflicts, and its verdict in Valerie’s favor was not against the great weight or preponderance of the evidence. Therefore, the trial court’s order granting a new trial was reversed, and the case was remanded accordingly.
 At trial, counsel for Lindsey informed the court Lindsey would not pursue the claims for wantonness, leaving negligence as the only remaining claim against Valerie.
 Jawad v. Granade, 497 So.2d 471 (Ala. 1986).
 See Scott v. Farnell, 775 So.2d 789, 791 (Ala. 2000).
 See Sharrief v. Gerlach, 798 So.2d 646, 651 (Ala. 2001).
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