Emergency Doctrine

Also found in: Medical.

Emergency Doctrine

A principle that allows individuals to take action in the face of a sudden or urgent need for aid, without being subject to normal standards of reasonable care. Also called imminent peril doctrine, or sudden peril doctrine.

The emergency doctrine allows people to act in critical situations that call for quick action—a fire, an automobile crash, a collapsing building—without danger of recrimination. An example of someone who might be covered under the emergency doctrine is a person who performs cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a heart attack victim and in so doing breaks several of the victim's ribs. Another example is when a driver, surprised by a pedestrian who steps out from between two parked cars, swerves to miss the pedestrian but then hits another car.

The emergency doctrine also covers situations in which an individual acted in Good Faith when disaster seemed imminent even though ultimately it was not. There is, however, a fine distinction between the emergency doctrine and the rescue doctrine, which requires that one who places a person in peril or in a situation with the appearance of imminent peril owes a duty of reasonable care to one attempting to rescue the person from the peril or appearance of peril. In Harris v. Oaks Shopping Center, Cal. App. 4th 206 (1999), a sand sculpture being installed in a mall appeared to be about to collapse. Harris, a mall employee, rushed over to push a woman and her small child out of the way. In his rush, he fell and injured his back. He filed suit, but the jury found that since the sculpture did not fall, there was no imminent danger; moreover, there was no evidence of Negligence on the part of the mall or the sand sculptors. Harris appealed, stating that the jury should have been instructed that since he acted on what he saw as an imminent threat, he had no obligation to prove actual negligence. He reasonably believed that the sculpture was about to collapse. The appellate court agreed and sent the case back to trial court for a new trial, in which the jury was to consider whether Harris acted reasonably under the circumstances. The court did, however, note that it was the rescue doctrine that applied in this case because the plaintiff's injuries stemmed from the attempted rescue, not an actual collapsed structure.

Further readings

Alexander, Ken, and Eric Wade. 2001. "Companies Prepare to Overcome Legal, Physical Effects of Disaster." Houston Business Journal (October 29).Pedestrian Injury Legal Info Center. Available online at <www.pedestrianinjury.com> (accessed August 11, 2003).


Good Samaritan Doctrine.

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107) Nevertheless, Mincey offers additional dictum in support of an emergency doctrine in appropriate circumstances.
The first condition that must appear before police can take action under the authority of the emergency doctrine is the presence of a true emergency situation.
Situations in which the Emergency Doctrine has been Recognized
One category of cases in which many courts have found the emergency doctrine to apply is in response to a report of a person in immediate need of medical treatment.
157) The court held that a warrantless entry into a dwelling in response to a reported drug overdose is reasonable under the emergency doctrine.
The Colorado Supreme Court upheld the officers' entry into the dwelling and seizure of the items in plain view as valid under the emergency doctrine.
175) Although the paramedics eventually determined the defendant's sister was not in medical distress, the court nonetheless found that the circumstances of the case met the requirements of the emergency doctrine.
DiGeronimo,(193) the court held that an officer's entry into an intoxicated defendant's apartment was not a valid use of the emergency doctrine when the defendant was not in need of medical attention.
Not only do the courts often uphold warrantless police entries as valid when a person is thought to be in need of aid, but the courts have routinely upheld the use of the emergency doctrine in response to a report of a missing person as well.
State, the Maryland Court of Appeals upheld a police entry into a home based on the emergency doctrine in circumstances involving a missing person.
In applying the emergency doctrine to cases of missing persons, some court opinions have suggested an additional factor in determining if government use of the doctrine was proper.
Yet another category in which courts have found the emergency doctrine to be applicable is in response to a reported kidnapping.

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