The North Carolina Court of Appeals recently held that the sudden emergency doctrine is unnecessary and inapplicable in medical malpractice lawsuits in Wiggins v. East Carolina Health Chowan, Inc.

Under the sudden emergency doctrine people faced with life-threatening emergencies aren’t required to employ the same judgment that would be expected in normal situations. The person faced with such emergencies has a duty to use that degree of are which a reasonable and prudent person in the same or similar circumstances would use.

In Wiggins v. East Carolina Health, the Plaintiff was admitted to the hospital for labor and delivery of her son. Labor was induced without a vaginal exam being conducted, which is required by hospital protocol. When a vaginal exam was conducted several hours later the nurse discovered the umbilical cord protruding from the Plaintiff’s body. The plaintiff was rushed to an emergency C-section and her son was born. The plaintiff’s son suffers permanent cognitive impairment that she alleges were caused by the hospital’s failure to perform a C-section in a timely manner.

The Plaintiff sued the hospital and attending physician. At trial the judge granted the hospital’s request to provide the jury with the sudden emergency doctrine pattern instructions, after which the jury returned a verdict for the hospital. The Plaintiffs appealed the decision to provide the jury with the sudden emergency doctrine instructions. The Court of Appeals held that the sudden emergency doctrine is inapplicable in medical malpractice suits and remanded the case for a new trial.