Emergency doctrine is 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. A doctrine of tort law: a person who is confronted with a sudden and unexpected difficult situation, not of his or her own making and who acts as would a reasonably prudent person under the circumstances will not be held liable even if later reflection shows that the wisest course was not chosen. It would exempt a person from the ordinary standard of reasonable care if that person acted instinctively to meet a sudden and urgent need for aid. For example, 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.

It can also be the legal principle by which consent to medical treatment in a dire situation is inferred when neither the patient nor a responsible party can consent but a reasonable person would do so.

Emergency doctrine is also used to refer to the principle whereby a police officer may search without a warrant if the officer has probable cause and reasonably believes that immediate action is needed to protect life or property. Emergency doctrine is also called imminent-peril doctrine or sudden-emergency doctrine.

Emergency exceptions:

An exception to the requirement for a search warrant in a situation in which a police officer has reason to believe that immediate action including a search is necessary to protect life or prevent serious injury

Through this defence, the at-fault party will claim that he or she was acting in response to a sudden emergency that needed an immediate response. Three elements need to be present to use the sudden emergency doctrine successfully:

  • Proof that the defendant encountered a sudden and unexpected situation.
  • Proof that the defendant did not cause this situation.
  • Proof that the defendant acted reasonably during this situation.