The Sudden Emergency Defense and What It Means For Californians

Glen Lerner Injury Attorneys

Generally, accident victims want to know when a motor vehicle accident occurs is who was at fault immediately after a crash. From the plaintiff’s point of view, the most important thing is whether the defendant truly the cause of the accident. In many instances, the defendant will openly admit that they caused the accident but insist that they should not be legally responsible for any damages because of a sudden emergency or illness. In the state of California, this is known as the Sudden Emergency Defense or Medical Emergency Defense.

California’s Sudden Emergency Defense Has Limited Ability

It is important to first note that this defense does not apply to a mental health condition or mental illness. California Civil Code §41 states: “A person of unsound mind, of whatever degree, is civilly liable for a wrong done by the person. . .”  As to other persons with no mental health issues, there is a potential and narrow defense for an individual who is suddenly and unforeseeably struck by a physical illness while driving a motor vehicle.

The sudden emergency defense generally states that the defendant-driver was not negligent because he or she acted with reasonable care in an emergency situation.  The defendant-driver was not negligent if he or she proves all of the following:

  1. There was a sudden and unexpected emergency situation in which someone was in actual or apparent danger of immediate injury;
  2. That defendant-driver did not cause the emergency; and
  3. That defendant-driver acted as a reasonably careful person would have acted in similar circumstances, even if it appears later that a different course of action would have been safer.

This is sometimes referred to as the imminent peril doctrine, and can be used either by the defendant- driver or by a plaintiff, and sometimes both, if the circumstances exist.

In California, a driver suddenly struck by an unknown or unforeseen illness which he could not anticipate while driving an automobile, which makes it impossible for him or her to control the car, is not negligent!  The motorist must be faced with an emergency situation by no fault of his or her own, and is thereafter held to a standard of care of a legally prudent person under the same or similar circumstances experienced by the motorist.

In most usual cases, this is a defense used by defendants and defense counsel when all other potential defenses are unavailable or fail.  When the defendant-driver raises this defense in a motor vehicle accident, that defendant has the burden of proving that the physical condition arose, that it was unforeseeable, and that it rendered the driver incapable of operating the motor vehicle.
The Law Offices of Glen Lerner Injury Attorneys have been representing individuals and families with personal injury and wrongful death claims for many years. Contact us for more help at (323) REAR END.