Vanderbilt Law Review

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Easy cases, as well as hard ones, sometimes make bad law. Pickett v. Cooper,' for example, was a straightforward automobile accident personal injury case. Defendant's car, on the wrong side of the road,collided with the car in which plaintiff was riding. Defendant contended that a tire blowout, rather than negligent driving, caused his car to be in the wrong lane, and he introduced evidence to support that contention. Instructing on the doctrine of "sudden emergency," the trial court told the jury to find for defendant if they believed "it [to be] as likely as not" that a tire blowout produced an emergency that was not defendant's fault, during which defendant operated his car as a reasonable person in the circumstances. The jury returned a verdict for defendant; the court entered judgment on it; and plaintiff appealed. The Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals reversed for error in the instruction, stating that the phrase "as likely as not" is "inapt and incorrect" in an instruction on burden of proof.

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