The emergency instruction, as used in vehicle accident cases, misstates the law of negligence by introducing an inquiry respecting whether a person has made the "wisest choice," rather than focusing on whether the person used reasonable care, given all the circumstances. Because the instruction misstates the law, it should not be given.
Plaintiff (leading driver) brought a negligence suit against defendant (following driver), seeking damages for her injuries and medical expenses arising out of their automobile collision. The following driver's request that the "emergency instruction" under Oregon Unif. Jury Instructions Civ. 20.08 be given was granted, and the jury returned a special verdict in favor of the following driver. On review, the leading driver contended the emergency instruction should not have been given.
When an instruction gives the jury the wrong legal rule to apply, and thus permits the jury to reach a legally incorrect result, does the error substantially affect a party's rights?
The supreme court agreed with the leading driver and held that the emergency instruction, as used in ordinary vehicle negligence cases, was an inaccurate and confusing supplement to the instructions on the law of negligence. The emergency instruction was erroneous because it introduced into the liability determination additional concepts that were not part of the ordinary negligence standard: whether the person had a "choice," whether the person made a "choice" that a reasonable person "might" make, and whether the person made the "wisest" choice or not. The addition of those new, otherwise-undefined concepts to the standard of reasonable care in light of all the circumstances injected a likely source of juror confusion as to the legal standard to be applied. The general negligence standard embodied in Oregon Unif. Jury Instructions Civ. 20.02 encompassed any legitimate concerns about "emergency" circumstances. As the emergency instruction incorrectly stated the law and likely confused the jury as to the correct legal standard to apply, it substantially affected the leading driver's rights. The rulings of the appellate court and the trial court were REVERSED and the case was REMANDED to the trial court for further proceedings.