Factual and procedural background
Jasim Al-Kuraishi was driving his vehicle on Interstate !0 near Rosemead on Oct. 11, 2014, at 1:00 am. He was traveling in the westbound lane going approximately 70 mph. Tommy Wu was traveling in front of Al-Kuraishi in the same direction when Wu saw a vehicle that was stopped in the lane in front of him about 20 to 30 car lengths ahead. Wu changed lanes by moving into the high-occupancy vehicle lane and passed the stopped vehicle while traveling between 40 and 50 mph. After he passed the vehicle and was about 400 feet in front of it, he saw Al-Kuraishi’s vehicle crash into the stopped car in his rearview mirror. The force of the collision caused Al-Kuraishi’s vehicle to travel into a different lane, and his car was struck by a second vehicle in that lane that was also traveling around 70 mph. Wu stopped his vehicle after witnessing the collision and called 911. When the paramedics arrived, Al-Kuraishi was pronounced dead at the accident scene.
Halah Abdul Abdulkadhim, Al-Kuraishi’s wife, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against multiple defendants on June 17, 2015, including Manuel Mendez, Jr., who was the driver of the disabled vehicle, Lesley Chavarria, who was the driver of the other vehicle that struck Al-Karaishi’s vehicle, and David Mendez, who was the owner of the disabled vehicle. She later amended the complaint to add Wu as a defendant on Oct. 7, 2016. Wu filed an answer to the complaint on July 14, 2017. On Dec. 7, 2018, Wu filed a motion for summary judgment. The court granted leave to the parties to supplement the evidentiary record about the sudden emergency doctrine at a hearing on the motion that was held on Feb. 22, 2019. At a hearing held on April 5, 2019, the court granted Wu’s motion for summary judgment. A judgment was entered in favor of Wu on July 2, 2020, and Abdulkadhim filed an appeal.
Issue: Whether Wu negligently changed lanes so late that Al-Kuraishi could not stop in time, or whether the sudden emergency doctrine applied?
On appeal, Abdulkadhim argued that Wu changed lanes to avoid the disabled vehicle so late that Al-Kuraishi did not have a reasonable amount of time to see and avoid Mendez’s vehicle. Wu argued that the sudden emergency doctrine preempted Abdulkadhim’s negligence cause of action against him and that there were no remaining issues of triable fact.
Rule: Under the sudden emergency doctrine, a person who is suddenly confronted by a danger that he or she did not create is not expected to use the same degree of care that a reasonably prudent person would use without the presence of the danger.
Motorists generally have a duty of care to exercise the same degree of ordinary care when they drive that reasonably prudent people would exercise under similar circumstances. Under the sudden emergency doctrine, a person who suddenly encounters an unexpected danger is not required to exercise the same degree of care that a reasonably prudent person would exercise under normal circumstances. Abdulkadhim argued that the sudden emergency doctrine did not apply to Wu’s case because he changed lanes so late that Al-Kuraishi did not have time to react in time to the stopped vehicle in his lane.
As we have previously explained, multiple vehicle accidents may involve several liable parties. When more than one party contributes to the case of an accident, each liable party will be responsible for paying his or her share of the damages. In this case, Abdulkadhim sued several parties, including Wu. However, her case against Wu was dismissed by the trial court after the court found that the sudden emergency doctrine applied.
The court first noted that the appellant in an appeal involving summary judgment has the burden of showing that the trial court committed error in granting the motion. The appellant must cite to the record and to supporting authority. The court then noted that under the sudden emergency doctrine, a person who encounters a danger through no negligence of his or her own is not required to exercise the same degree of ordinary care that a reasonably prudent person would if the danger was not present. The sudden emergency doctrine does not apply in cases in which the person’s negligence causes or contributes to the creation of the dangerous condition.
Abdulkadhim argued that Wu’s lane change occurred so late that Al-Kuraishi did not have time to react to the stopped vehicle. She argued that by changing lanes too late, Wu had acted negligently and had contributed to the dangerous condition created by the stopped vehicle. Wu argued that the danger was Mendez’s disabled vehicle stopped in the traffic lane in which vehicles were traveling at high speeds and not his lane change. Abdulkadhim argued that the danger was Al-Kuraishi’s inability to see the disabled vehicle until it was too late because of the timing of Wu’s lane change.
The court pointed out that the sudden emergency doctrine deals with the dangers presented to the person who initially reacts. In the case of Wu, the danger presented to him was the stopped vehicle, and his lane change was not relevant to determining whether the sudden emergency doctrine applied.
The court affirmed the trial court’s order granting Wu’s motion for summary judgment. The case was dismissed, and Abdulkadhim was ordered to pay Wu’s costs on appeal.
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