What Happens if You Have a Sudden Medical Emergency and Get Into a Crash?
In California, if you have a medical emergency and cause an auto accident, it can be used as a defense. This defense is called the “doctrine of sudden emergency” or the “doctrine of imminent peril”. However, this is a very specific defense. It does not cover mental illnesses but instead physical health emergencies that the driver had no reason to anticipate before the crash.
The California sudden medical emergency defense, however, does not apply to a driver whose conduct caused the medical emergency or has reason to expect the medical emergency. (CACI 452; See also Pittman v. Boiven (1967) 249 Cal.App.2d 207, 216.)
For example, if a driver had a stroke and then rear-ended another driver, the defense of sudden emergency may be applied so long as the driver had no reason to anticipate a stroke beforehand.
On the other hand, if a driver knew he had epilepsy, a condition that causes recurrent seizures which are sudden in range, severity, and frequency, and caused a crash, this driver may not be able to use California’s medical emergency defense.
The issue is insurance companies have abused the doctrine of medical emergency to avoid liability in a crash. This is why it is so important to call the car accident lawyers at LA Century Law if you have been involved in a crash and the insurance company is trying to argue their insured is not responsible under the “sudden emergency” defense.
Disputing Medical Emergency Defenses
At LA Century Law, we have had several cases where the insurance company has tried to argue that their insured had a medical emergency when they crashed into one of our clients.
We discovered this defense was improper and we were able to defeat each one of their defenses. It is important to keep a few things in mind.
1. Defendant has the burden
In the California case of Cohen, Waters, Bashi and Civil Code § 41 it outlined the defendant’s “burden of proof” or what they must prove in order to use the defense of medical emergency in a four-prong test, which is outlined below.
The driver of the crash who is trying to use the medica emergency defense must prove:
- The driver is telling the truth about the sudden emergency,
- The medical emergency was physical and not mental,
- That the medical emergency was sudden and without previous notice which led to the defendant driver causing the crash, and
- The defendant driver did not know about the physical medical condition prior to the crash.
The burden of proof is which party must prove their case. To use the defense of medical emergency, the defense will need to prove all four of the elements referenced above.
2. Focus on the defendant’s medical history
It is important to focus on the defendant’s previous medical history to gather information on whether the sudden emergency defense applies. A tool used to gather information is written discovery.
Written discovery refers to written questions or demands for documents from the other side when a lawsuit is filed. Through the discovery process, we can request the defendant driver’s medical records to see if he ever had experienced or had complaints of the issue he is now alleging is the medical emergency in the current case.
3. Deposition of family and friends
A deposition is a formal testimony under the penalty of perjury. It is important to conduct the depositions of family and friends of the person who caused the crash to determine if the medical emergency was in fact unknown or whether it was an issue the person has had in the past.