Appellant (plaintiff) petitioned for review of a decision of the court of appeals which affirmed the judgment of the trial court. All issues on appeal pertain to the propriety of an instruction on the sudden emergency doctrine. We granted review in order to examine and settle the law of this state with regard to that doctrine. We have jurisdiction pursuant to Ariz. Const. art. 6, § 5(3), and Ariz.R.Civ.App.P. 23.
A detailed version of the facts is set forth in the decision of the court of appeals. Petefish v. Dawe, 137 Ariz. 593, 672 P.2d 937 (App. 1983). A brief summary follows.
Defendant Grady Dawe was driving his parents' truck on a dirt road near Cave
As O'Connor's car rounded a curve in the road, the deflating tire blew out and the vehicle spun completely around in the road. At the end of the spin, O'Connor's car began to travel back in the direction from which it had come. About this same time, Dawe's truck rounded the curve. Dawe and the other passengers in his truck testified that they were blinded by the headlights of O'Connor's approaching car, that it seemed to be close and coming right at them on the wrong side of the road. It was uncontested that O'Connor's vehicle had its headlights on high beam. Dawe testified that in order to avoid a head-on collision, he applied his brakes and turned his steering wheel sharply to the right. As a result, he ran off the road and his truck rolled over. Plaintiff was very seriously injured.
Plaintiff brought a negligence action against Dawe and his parents. Dawe denied that he was negligent and claimed that he had run off the road in an attempt to avoid the sudden emergency he faced. He argued that his actions were reasonable under the circumstances of that emergency. Over plaintiff's objections, the trial court instructed on the sudden emergency doctrine. The jury returned a verdict in favor of defendants, and plaintiff appealed. All issues raised on appeal pertain to the application of the sudden emergency doctrine under the facts of this case and to the wording of the instruction given the jury on that subject.
Plaintiff's first argument is based on Dawe's alleged antecedent negligence in driving. Plaintiff contends the emergency doctrine is inapplicable because Dawe's negligence was a cause of the emergency. We acknowledge the rule that an actor is not entitled to the benefit of the emergency doctrine when his own negligence has been a cause of the emergency. Gilbert v. Quinet, 91 Ariz. 29, 33-34, 369 P.2d 267, 270 (1962); Restatement (Second) of Torts § 296, comments a and d (1965). However, where there is an issue of fact on the question of antecedent negligence, the jury must be instructed conditionally and "allowed to determine whether the ... driver was responsible for the suddenness of the crisis which he faced." Gilbert v. Quinet, 91 Ariz. at 33-34, 369 P.2d at 270. Dawe and three of his passengers all testified that Dawe was driving properly, at a reasonable speed, on his side of the road and in control of his vehicle until seeing the lights of O'Connor's car heading right at them. The court of appeals held that this evidence did present an issue of fact with respect to whether the "emergency" had been caused by Dawe's antecedent negligence. We agree with the analysis made by the court of appeals.
ALTERNATIVE COURSES OF CONDUCT
Plaintiff contends the emergency doctrine is only applicable where the actor has chosen among alternative courses of conduct. Since plaintiff does not claim that Dawe improperly chose between alternatives, he argues that the emergency doctrine was irrelevant in this case and the court therefore erred by instructing on the doctrine. The court of appeals agreed with the plaintiff's characterization of this aspect of the emergency doctrine but held that the jury could have found that Dawe had a choice between alternatives so that the instruction was warranted.
While we agree with the result, we think the emphasis on alternative courses of action is misplaced. The emergency doctrine is not so much a matter of deliberate choice between alternatives available to meet a sudden emergency as it is a matter of impulse and reaction.
W. Prosser, Handbook of the Law of Torts § 33, at 169 (4th ed. 1971) (footnotes omitted).
The court of appeals stated that "[o]ur courts have held that the doctrine is inapplicable where the person charged with negligence had no opportunity to choose between two or more alternative courses of action."
Logically, of course, in every reactive situation there are at least two alternatives. One is to do nothing, and the other is to react. The greater the emergency, the more likely that reaction is the result of impulse rather than conscious deliberation. The logical focus of the sudden emergency doctrine as an excuse for otherwise unreasonable action is on the impulse of reaction. It must be remembered that there may not have been an opportunity "for ... thoughtful balancing of proper expedients. When unraveled in the illuminating glare of hindsight, [the] problem may become ... deceptively easy of solution; but ... an `emergency' [is] `an unforeseen combination of circumstances which calls for immediate action'." Leek v. Dillard, 304 S.W.2d 60, 69 (Mo. App. 1957). There are cases, such as the one at bench, in which it probably would have been better if the actor had not reacted at all. There are other cases where even in the presence of emergency the actor had a chance to determine that there were alternatives and to react by picking one of them. The doctrine may be applicable in both situations; however, the focus should not be on the existence of a deliberate choice between alternative courses of conduct to meet the emergency, but, rather, upon the reasonableness of the actor's reaction to the emergency. Under either analysis, however, the predicate for giving the sudden emergency instruction was present in this case. We therefore agree with the court of appeals' resolution of this issue.
REASONABLE/UNREASONABLE APPREHENSION OF DANGER
Finally, defendant attacks the application of the emergency doctrine to this case on the theory that the apprehension of peril does not entitle an actor to invoke the sudden emergency rule unless that apprehension is reasonable. Arguing from this premise, plaintiff claims that Dawe's apprehension was unreasonable as a matter of
Without citation of authority, the court of appeals agreed with this theory. Though many cases contain language which indicates the apprehension must be reasonable (e.g.: Woods v. Harker, supra note 1), cases with a specific holding on that point are more difficult to find. However, where the point has been considered, the cases have uniformly held that the doctrine is inapplicable where the sudden peril was neither real nor reasonably apprehended. Beaumaster v. Crandall, 576 P.2d 988, 992 (Alaska 1978); Allen v. Pearce Dental Supply Company, 149 Kan. 549, 551, 88 P.2d 1057, 1059 (1939); Beck v. Browning, 129 Tex. 7, 10, 101 S.W.2d 545, 546 (1937); Slate v. Hogback Mountain Ski Lift, Inc., 122 Vt. 8, 12, 163 A.2d 851, 854-55 (1960). For this reason and those discussed below, we conclude that the requirement of reasonable apprehension is a proper limitation on the emergency doctrine. We hold, therefore, that to warrant an instruction on sudden emergency the actor must have faced an actual situation of imminent peril or a situation which a reasonable person would perceive as involving imminent peril.
Thus, defendant was not entitled to the benefit of the emergency doctrine unless the emergency was either real or reasonably apprehended. The court of appeals properly found that the evidence here created a jury question on both the issue of whether the emergency was actual and, if not, the issue of whether Dawe reasonably perceived it to be real. Therefore, the court of appeals was correct in holding that the trial court did not err in instructing on the subject of sudden emergency.
With this in mind, we now consider the actual instruction given by the court:
(Emphasis supplied.) The italicized portion of the instruction does not expressly limit application of the doctrine to situations of actual or reasonably apprehended peril. Likewise, it does not expressly allow application of the doctrine to situations of unreasonably apprehended peril. On its face it is neutral.
Plaintiff made an appropriate, specific objection to the italicized portion of the instruction. He now claims giving it was reversible error. Plaintiff argues that this instruction is defective because it does not specifically state that the actor's apprehension of peril must be reasonable for the emergency doctrine to apply. Consequently, the argument continues, the jury may have relieved Dawe of liability even though it found that a reasonable person in the defendant's position would not have believed there was any danger, and, therefore, would not have reacted as the defendant did. He would be correct if the problem were not adequately covered in some other portion of the instructions. Before considering
The emergency doctrine is not a rule of law separate and distinct from the general standard of reasonable care. It is, rather, judicial recognition that a perceived emergency is one of the factors which should be considered in determining what is reasonable care under the circumstances. Restatement, supra, § 296 comment b. The law recognizes "the impulses of humanity when placed in dangerous positions, and does not expect thoughtful care from the persons whose lives are thus endangered." Kern v. Des Moines City R. Co., 141 Iowa 620, 631, 118 N.W. 451, 455 (1908).
Martin v. City of New Orleans, 678 F.2d 1321, 1325 (5th Cir.1982) (emphasis supplied). In Martin, over a well-argued dissent, a majority of the court held that the trial judge had not erred in refusing an emergency instruction warranted by the facts, because the entire concept of the doctrine was subsumed in the general instructions on negligence in which the jury was told that the defendant was under a duty to use ordinary care "viewed in the light of all the surrounding circumstances" shown by the evidence. The court held that the general instruction had effectively covered the principles of law embodied in the sudden emergency theory. Id. at 1326.
Thus, in characterizing the precise problem presented by this case — a possibly unreasonable perception of emergency — we believe that plaintiff's true complaint here is not the omission of some special rule of law, but merely another facet of the concept that the doctrine is no excuse where the actor's negligence is a causal factor in creating the perilous situation. To say that the defendant took dangerous, evasive action because he erroneously and unreasonably perceived impending danger where none existed means only that he was negligent in either perceiving or reacting. The converse of plaintiff's argument is provided by a case where the actor negligently fails to perceive actual danger before it becomes an emergency, and then perceives the danger only when it can be avoided by an extreme and dangerous reaction. We could deal with such a problem in terms of "emergency", but it is better characterized as negligent misperception or negligent reaction. We have held that such a question is one of antecedent negligence, so that the emergency doctrine is inapplicable as a matter of law because it is a form of antecedent negligence which helped create the "emergency." Tansy v. Morgan, supra note 1.
The final issue for resolution, therefore, is whether the concepts of negligent misperception of an emergency or negligent reaction where no real peril existed, were substantially covered in the charge to the jury, even though not in those words. We believe that when the entire emergency instruction is considered with the other instructions and the alternative theories of the case as presented by the parties, there is no significant possibility that the jury was misled.
The third sentence of the instruction quoted above plainly states that the law requires that the actor not only do "what appears to him to be the best thing to do," but that "his choice and manner of action [be] the same as might have been followed by an ordinarily prudent person, under the same conditions." In its second sentence, the instruction states that the actor must exercise "the care that an ordinarily prudent person would exercise" in the same situation. In order for the jurors to conclude that the instruction at issue allowed them to relieve the defendant of liability for negligently reacting based on his subjective, unreasonable apprehension of peril, it would have had to read a subjective standard into the neutral first sentence of the instruction, at the same time ignoring the clearly stated objective standard expressed in other sentences of the same instruction. Furthermore, the other instructions given in the case made it clear that Dawe's conduct was to be judged by an objective reasonable person standard. We believe, therefore, that this facet of the problem was adequately covered.
We note, also, that the trial court ended the instruction on the emergency doctrine with the following paragraph:
We believe that this statement also conveys the essence of the idea that if Dawe
The trial was hard fought and the issues strongly contested. The record indicates that the plaintiff had the stronger argument regarding the position of the Dawe car at the time control was lost. Consequently the inference is strong that Dawe lost control because of antecedent negligence (high speed on curve and overcorrection) rather than response to an emergency, reasonably perceived or not. This was the trial judge's view of the evidence. Nevertheless, Dawe and his passengers all testified that Dawe was in complete control until he rounded the curve and saw O'Connor's car coming toward him. The jury evidently believed this version of the accident. The trial judge did not find the verdict against the weight of the evidence and we cannot substitute our view of the record for that of either the trial judge or the jury. Grant v. Arizona Public Service, 133 Ariz. 434, 454, 652 P.2d 507, 527, reh. denied (1982). At most, the instruction contained only technical error and, when taken as a whole, conveyed the correct legal concepts to the jury. Therefore, we do not believe the substantive rights of the parties were affected. Under these circumstances, we agree with the court of appeals' conclusion that the instruction, though far from perfect,
HOLOHAN, C.J., GORDON, V.C.J., and HAYS, J., concur.