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Nevada Supreme Court Clarifies Sudden Emergency Jury Instruction

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In Posas v. Hortan, 126 Nev. Adv. Op. No. 12 (April 15, 2010), the Nevada Supreme Court addressed when it is appropriate for a sudden emergency instruction to be given to a jury.

The case arose from an automobile accident. Nicole Horton rear-ended Amelia Posas when Posas stopped suddenly for a jaywalking pedestrian pushing a stroller. Horton, who was driving about three to four behind Posas, admitted that she was following Horton too close.

Posas filed suit against Horton as a result of the accident. At trial, the jury was given a sudden emergency instruction, despite Posas’ objection, and the jury returned a verdict for Horton.

The sudden emergency instruction stated that "A person confronted with a sudden emergency which he does not create, who acts according to his best judgment or, because of insufficient time to form a judgment fails to act in the most judicious manner, is not guilty of negligence if he exercises the care of a reasonably prudent person in like circumstances."

The Court concluded that the jury instruction was given inappropriately. First, the Court concluded that Horton wasn’t faced with a sudden emergency because she was not suddenly placed in a position of peril through no negligence of her own. Instead, the Court concluded that she placed herself in a position of peril through her own negligence. Further, the Court stated that in order to request the sudden emergency instruction, the requesting party must have been affected by the emergency. The Court noted that if an emergency situation had been created by the pedestrian, it would have been an emergency that confronted Posas, not Horton.

The Court clarified that the sudden emergency instruction is only appropriate when (1) unexpected conditions confront the actor requesting the instruction and (2) the actor was otherwise exercising reasonable care.