The Emergency Doctrine Illustrated
– Recently, Tenino Police Chief, Robert Swain, suffered a medical emergency while driving his police cruiser and caused some property damage. The police department’s statement on the incident is below. Our best wishes for a speedy recovery to Chief Swain. This scenario, however, provides a good illustration of the “emergency doctrine” in Washington driving laws.
The emergency doctrine applies in various situations where the driver commits what would otherwise be deemed a negligent act, but is not considered so because the driver could not have prevented the act from occurring due to being placed in an “emergency” situation. The situation can be caused by another motorist’s negligence, such as when someone else runs a red light and the driver then has to react immediately. The law does not impose upon that driver a duty to make a perfect choice, as they had to take action immediately and threw no fault of their own.
A driver suffering a sudden medical emergency, such as a stroke or heart attack, would also likely absolve that driver from legal responsibility for any harm caused as the driver was placed into a situation that they did not cause. As long as the driver wasn’t negligently on the road with knowledge of the real possibility of a medical emergency (such as someone with a history of seizures).
That’s why it’s always important to know the rules when you’re on the road.
Tenino Police Chief Robert (Bob) Swain experienced a medical emergency at approximately 4:15 on Wednesday, April 8, 2020, while driving a Tenino Police cruiser.
The cruiser crashed into the south side of Scotty B’s restaurant, causing moderate damage to the building and severe damage to the cruiser.
Chief Swain was transported to a local medical facility with an ALS Medic Unit from Tumwater. Emergency personnel on the scene say that Chief’s injuries due to the crash are not great, but it is unknown at this time the totality of his medical status.
Troopers from the Washington State Patrol will be conducting the accident investigation. According to personnel on the scene, there was nothing to indicate that drugs or alcohol were involved.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Chief and his wife, Becky, as we all hope for a full and speedy recovery.
More information will be provided as it becomes available.