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Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
April 21, 2020, Argued; December 22, 2020, Decided
No. 42 WAP 2019
[*157] JUSTICE WECHT
] Pennsylvania tort law recognizes that sometimes injurious accidents are not caused by carelessness, but because events conspire to create a situation so urgent and unexpected that the person alleged to be blameworthy had little or no practical opportunity to avert the harm. When the evidence suggests that such "sudden emergencies" may have played a role in a case, the presiding judge may instruct a jury that, should it determine that such an emergency contributed to the accident, it should assess the defendant's performance commensurately. But since the advent of the automobile, Pennsylvania law also has imposed a heightened standard of care upon drivers to exercise particular vigilance when it is reasonably foreseeable that a pedestrian will cross their path, [**2] particularly at intersections. The case now before us involves such a scenario. Citing [*158] darkness, an obstructed view, and a want of evidence of any overtly careless behavior by the driver, the trial court in this case charged the jury on sudden emergency—the pedestrian's ostensibly abrupt appearance in front of the driver mere moments before impact. We hold that the trial evidence failed to establish a foundation for that instruction here. The decision to charge the jury on sudden emergency was prejudicial error in this case, and the plaintiff is entitled to a new trial.
In the Borough of East Pittsburgh, Center Avenue, running east-west, forms a T intersection with Route 30, which runs north-south. The stem of the T runs west from the intersection, and across Route 30 from that stem. At the top of the T, there is a bus stop. Just southwest of the intersection there is a gas station. The intersection is signaled, but the only artificial light in the vicinity of the intersection is cast by the gas station and its sign.
Just before 6:00 a.m. on March 8, 2016, Francis Graham crossed Route 30 from the southwest corner of the intersection to the bus stop, intending to catch a local bus to [**3] downtown Pittsburgh, where he planned to board a Greyhound bus to Cleveland. After arriving at the bus stop, he realized that he did not have exact fare, so he decided to cross the highway to the gas station to get change. There was a pedestrian signal, but Graham did not activate it. Instead, observing that the signal for cross-traffic was red, and after confirming that oncoming traffic from the south was stopping for the signal,1 Graham, who was wearing dark clothing, began his crossing in the marked crosswalk at an ordinary rate of speed.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
243 A.3d 153 *; 2020 Pa. LEXIS 6483 **
FRANCIS G. GRAHAM, Appellant v. LARRY CHECK, Appellee
Prior History: [**1] Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court entered March 19, 2019 at No. 909 WDA 2018, affirming the Judgment of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County entered June 13, 2018 at No. GD-16-020645.
Graham v. Check, 215 A.3d 657, 2019 Pa. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 960 (Mar. 19, 2019)
sudden emergency, intersection, pedestrian, driver, circumstances, trial court, speed, signal, crosswalk, emergency, motorist, feet, new trial, instructions, confronted, crossing, distance, instruction of a jury, traffic, appearance, sudden, travel, anticipate, collision, charging, struck, nonnegligent, approaching, foreseeable, prejudicial
Torts, Comparative Fault, Common Law Concepts, Sudden Emergencies, Contributory Negligence, Limits on Application, Standards of Care, Reasonable Care, Motor Vehicles, Particular Actors, Circumstances, & Liabilities, Personal Vehicle Operators & Owners, Transportation Law, Private Vehicles, Traffic Regulation, Safety Zones, Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, Abuse of Discretion, Questions of Fact & Law, De Novo Review, Trials, Jury Trials, Jury Instructions, Judgments, Relief From Judgments, Motions for New Trials, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Allocation