Eighteen year old girl knocks speeding cyclists over to protect children; Sudden Emergency Doctrine stops suit

Pavane v. Marte, 37 Misc. 3d 1216A; 2012 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 5128; 2012 NY Slip Op 52060U

Cyclists deserved it to.

This is a lawsuit over an injury a cyclist received when he crashed in New York City. He crashed because an eighteen year old summer enrichment program counselor shoved him over with her “Stop Children Crossing” sign when he failed to stop at a light.

A summer enrichment program is a day camp for kids when parents have to work. The kids are taken on tours, programs, exercise and many involve a lot of outdoor recreation. In this case, the kids with two counselors were walking to a swimming pool. The program was run by the defendant Oasis Children’s Services.

While crossing a street only half the students made it across the street before the light changed. The defendant counselor kept her students back until the light changed again. She then proceeded out to the middle of traffic and held up a sign which said Stop Children Crossing. As the students started to cross she noticed a group of cyclists coming towards the crosswalk. All but one of the cyclists stopped. The one who did not stop was the defendant.

As per the protocol of the program, the counselor was supposed to yell at cyclists who look like they are not going to stop. If the cyclists do not stop a counselor it to put their body between the bicycle and the kids. (That is asking a lot of an 18-year-old kid!)

The light was red; the cyclist was not stopping so the counselor put her body between the kids and the cyclists. The cyclists still did not stop. The counselor waived her sign and yelled at the cyclists. At the last moment, she jumped out of the way, and she pushed the cyclists arm with her sign.

He crashed!

The cyclists sued for negligence that he crashed because a girl pushed him with a sign. The defendants raised the defense of the Sudden Emergency Doctrine.

Summary of the case

The sudden emergency doctrine has many different names and variations across the US. You should check your state to determine if it is available as a defense how the defense is defined. Do not rely on the sudden emergency doctrine to save you, it rarely does.

In New York, the Sudden Emergency Doctrine is defined as:

A common law emergency doctrine is recognized in New York and it applies “when an actor is faced with a sudden and unexpected circumstance that 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 context”.

Basically, it says you can be negligent for the greater good. If your negligence is less than the damage or problem that not being negligent will create, then the Sudden Emergency Doctrine provides you a defense to a negligence claim.

In this case, the court found the actions of the defendant counselor in pushing the cyclists saved the children. “The evidence is credible that Marte [Defendant] pushed Pavane [Plaintiff] from his bicycle in order to prevent children from getting injured.”

Application of the Sudden Emergency Doctrine is a balancing test to some extent. The harm created by the negligent act is less than the harm that would have occurred if the defendant had not acted. 99% of the time only a jury will make the decision, whether your actions where worth it.

As a further little hit, the court held “It is the finding of this Court that Mr. Pavane’s own failure to stop at the red light and yield to children crossing the street was the sole proximate cause of the incident.”

So Now What?

The sad thing is the program had so much experience with cyclist’s running lights; they had developed a program to deal with it.

Cyclists of New York, you should be embarrassed!

The classic case of where the Sudden Emergency Doctrine would work is portrayed in “Touching the Void” by Joe Simpson.

Do not rely on the sudden emergency doctrine as a defense in your program or activity.


Plaintiff: Martin Pavane and Merrill Pavane


Defendant: Samidra Marte, Oasis Community Corporation and Oasis Children’s Services


Plaintiff Claims: Negligence


Defendant Defenses: Sudden Emergency Doctrine


Holding: For the Defendant


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