Last week, the New York Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal in Lifson v. City of Syracuse. The issue likely to be decided is whether a trial court can instruct a jury on the emergency doctrine where the evidence does not support that a weather or lighting condition was sudden or unforeseen.
In Lifson, the defendant driver injured the decedent pedestrian after striking her with his motor vehicle. The defendant stopped at a stop sign at the intersection in question. He looked to the left and to the right and the proceeded to make a left turn. The defendant claimed that, as he was in the process of making the left turn, his vision was momentarily obstructed by sun glare. He took his eyes off the road and, when he looked back up again, he observed decedent approximately one foot in front of his vehicle. The defendant "slammed" on the brakes but was unable to avoid hitting the decedent.
The Fourth Department Majority concluded, among other things, that the trial court did not err by giving an emergency instruction with respect to the assertion of the defendant that he failed to observe the decedent because he was blinded by sun glare. The Court reasoned that there was a reasonable view of the evidence establishing that the sun glare was a sudden and unforeseen circumstance justifying the emergency instruction.
Justice Peradotto dissented, noting that she agreed with the plaintiff that Supreme Court erred in giving an emergency instruction with respect to the assertion of the defendant that he failed to observe the decedent because he was blinded by sun glare. Justice Peradotto noted that the defendant never testified at trial that he was unaware that the sun was out or that he did not expect to be driving into the sun when he turned left to travel west.
Justice Peradotto concluded that
[The] defendant should have anticipated the possibility that he might encounter glare from the sun when he began to turn his vehicle to travel west into the setting sun. Because the condition defendant faced was not unexpected in light of the sunny weather and the time of day, [the] defendant was not entitled to the benefit of an emergency instruction.
New York Civil Law will keep you apprised of the developments on this appeal