California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)

452. Sudden Emergency

[Name of plaintiff/defendant] claims that [he/she] was not negligent because [he/she] acted with reasonable care in an emergency situation. [Name of plaintiff/defendant] was not negligent if [he/she] proves all of the following:

1. That there was a sudden and unexpected emergency situation in which someone was in actual or apparent danger of immediate injury;

2. That [name of plaintiff/defendant] did not cause the emergency; and

3. That [name of plaintiff/defendant] acted as a reasonably careful person would have acted in similar circumstances, even if it appears later that a different course of action would have been safer.

New September 2003

Directions for Use

The instruction should not be given unless at least two courses of action are available to the party after the danger is perceived. (Anderson v. Latimer (1985) 166 Cal.App.3d 667, 675 [212 Cal.Rptr. 544].)

Additional instructions should be given if there are alternate theories of negligence.

Sources and Authority

  • The doctrine of imminent peril may be used by either the plaintiff or the defendant, or, in a proper case, both. (Smith v. Johe (1957) 154 Cal.App.2d 508, 511–512 [316 P.2d 688].)
  • “Whether the conditions for application of the imminent peril doctrine exist is itself a question of fact to be submitted to the jury.” (Damele v. Mack Trucks, Inc. (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 29, 37 [267 Cal.Rptr. 197]; see also Leo v. Dunham (1953) 41 Cal.2d 712, 715 [264 P.2d 1].)
  • “[A] person who, without negligence on his part, is suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with peril, arising from either the actual presence, or the appearance, of imminent danger to himself or to others, is not expected nor required to use the same judgment and prudence that is required of him in the exercise of ordinary care in calmer and more deliberate moments.” (Leo, supra, 41 Cal.2d at p. 714.)
  • The “doctrine is properly applied only in cases where an unexpected physical danger is so suddenly presented as to deprive the injured party [or the defendant] of his power of using reasonable judgment.” (Sadoian v. Modesto Refrigerating Co. (1958) 157 Cal.App.2d 266, 274 [320 P.2d 583].) The exigent nature of the circumstances effectively lowers the standard of care: “ ‘The test is whether the actor took one of the courses of action which a standard man in that emergency might have taken, and such a course is not negligent even though it led to an injury which might have been prevented by adopting an alternative course of action.’ [Citation.]” (Schultz v. Mathias (1970) 3 Cal.App.3d 904, 912–913 [83 Cal.Rptr. 888].)

  • The doctrine of imminent peril does not apply to a person whose conduct causes or contributes to the imminent peril. (Pittman v. Boiven (1967) 249 Cal.App.2d 207, 216 [57 Cal.Rptr. 319].)
  • The doctrine applies when a person perceives danger to himself or herself as well as when he or she perceives a danger to others. (Damele, supra, 219 Cal.App.3d at p. 36.)
  • “[T]he mere appearance of an imminent peril to others—not an actual imminent peril—is all that is required.” (Damele, supra, 219 Cal.App.3d at p. 37.)

Secondary Sources

6 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, §§ 1282, 1292–1294

California Tort Guide (Cont.Ed.Bar 3d ed.) § 4.7

1 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 1, Negligence: Duty and Breach, §§ 1.03, 1.11, 1.30 (Matthew Bender)

33 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 380, Negligence (Matthew Bender)

16 California Points and Authorities, Ch. 165, Negligence, § 165.250 (Matthew Bender)