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Foster v. Strutz - 636 N.W.2d 104 (Iowa 2001)


A sudden emergency is an event that requires, if not an instantaneous response, certainly something fairly close to that.


Defendants Vince Ankrum and Cassandra Strutz were attacked by three to five young men while they were seated in Ankrum’s car parked in a parking lot. One of the assailants accidentally hit the gearshift of Ankrum’s car, putting the car in reverse. Defendant Strutz stepped on the accelator, believing that the car was in drive. As the car was actually in reverse, the car backed toward the pickup owned by plaintiff Valerie Foster. Foster attempted to pull herself over the side and into the bed of the pickup, but her foot was crushed between the rear bumper of Ankrum’s car and the side of the pickup. Thereafter, Foster sued defendants. During trial, the defendants asked the court to give a sudden-emergency instruction, which the trial court refused. According to the district court, the evidence showed that some time passed for the defendants to assess the situations and make some judgment calls, and therefore, they were not confronted with a sudden emergency. The appellate court reversed, holding that a sudden-emergency instruction should have been given.


Did the circumstances at hand warrant a sudden-emergency instruction to the jury?




The Court held that a sudden emergency was an event that required, if not an instantaneous response, something fairly close to that. In the case at bar, the facts showed that the defendants had 10 to 15 seconds to think and to act. The Court held that this was sufficient time, under the circumstances, to assess the situation, make some judgment calls, and drive off without striking the victim. Therefore the emergency was not sudden. Accordingly, the state supreme court reversed the appellate court’s decision.

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