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Law School Case Brief

Rivera v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth. - 77 N.Y.2d 322, 567 N.Y.S.2d 629, 569 N.E.2d 432 (1991)


The emergency doctrine recognizes that when an actor is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance which leaves little or no time for thought, deliberation, or consideration, or causes the actor to be reasonably so disturbed that the actor must make a speedy decision without weighing alternative courses of conduct, the actor may not be negligent if the actions taken are reasonable and prudent in the emergency. A party requesting the emergency instruction is entitled to have the jury so charged if some evidence of a qualifying emergency is presented. If, under some reasonable view of the evidence, an actor was confronted by a sudden and unforeseen occurrence not of the actor's own making, then the reasonableness of the conduct in the face of the emergency is for the jury, which should be appropriately instructed.


Milton Rivera fell from the platform of a Manhattan subway station onto the tracks and was struck by an arriving train. He died several hours later. Plaintiff, Rivera"s widow, sued the New York City Transit Authority (TA) for damages. After a trial, the jury returned a verdict in plaintiff's favor, apportioning fault 15% against plaintiff's decedent and 85% against defendant TA. The Appellate Division affirmed, with two Justices dissenting, and this appeal is taken as a matter of right. The theory of plaintiff's case was that the subway operator was negligent in speeding into the station and in not taking measures to stop the train as soon as he first observed the decedent on the platform. The defendant TA contends principally on this appeal that the trial court erred in refusing its requested instructions on the emergency doctrine and foreseeability.


Did the trial court err in failing to instruct the jury on the emergency doctrine?




The appellate court determined that the evidence supported the argument that its employee should be held to a lower standard based on the circumstances and the speed in which the events leading up to the accident occurred. The court reasoned that such an instruction would allow the jury to decide the case against the appropriate backdrop of facts. Additionally, the court held that the trial court erred in concluding that foreseeability was not at issue in the case.

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