A woman hit two vehicles on a road near San Francisco earlier this month as she was rushing to seek treatment for a supposed ‘medical emergency’. A driver that witnessed the collisions took a video of the woman who first rear ended one car, and then proceeded to keep driving after her airbags deployed, rear ending another car in Pleasant Hill, California.
Alan Wang, the witness who caught the action on video, realized that the woman had been involved in a previous accident and hadn’t stopped, so he started recording her to capture the event. The driver was dragging her bumper along the ground as she drove, later slamming into the driver’s door of a green van, almost knocking it over, driving a few more feet before stopping on the curb in front of a traffic light post.
The driver who hit both cars claimed she was suffering from an “undisclosed medical emergency” when the collisions occurred. Police are still investigating events. I would like to discuss the concept of a sudden medical emergency. In California, we have the “Doctrine of Imminent Peril”. Generally a person confronted with a sudden emergency is held to a lesser standard of care under the circumstances. A driver who is suddenly stricken by an illness, which he could not anticipate, while driving an automobile, which renders it impossible for him to control the car, is not negligent. However, a sudden mental illness does not preclude a driver from negligence. If a driver has a legitimate medical emergency and it is legitimately sudden and legitimately unanticipated, then that medical emergency means that the driver is probably not negligent and a legal claim against that driver is likely to fail.
As with most legal concepts, the devil is in the details. If a person thinks that they are relatively healthy and they have a sudden heart attack and then crash the car, the driver is probably not negligent. If a person knows that they have a medical condition for which they should take medicine, but they fail to take that medicine, and the untreated medical condition causes a crash, then it would be unfair to grant that driver the sudden medical emergency defense. If a worker comes down with the flu, and is feeling dizzy and has trouble seeing straight, and his boss gives him a company truck to drive home, and then the worker faints behind the wheel, would you call that medical emergency sudden or unanticipated? I would not. The above examples are all from cases I have handled, and all of the issues about the sudden onset of medical symptoms have been litigated here in our office. In one case, a gentleman ran over a bicyclist, causing the bicyclist very serious personal injuries, and then the motorist struck a lamp post which crushed his ribcage and tore his heart, killing him. The lawyer for the motorist claimed that the defendant had a sudden unanticipated heart attack and was therefore innocent of any wrongdoing. Our contention was that the errant driver had struck the motorist and then the pole, and it was the pole crushing his ribcage that gave him the heart attack. The case hinged in many ways on the microscopic evidence of the driver’s heart tissue.
Ultimately the application of the medical emergency defense is up to the jurors at trial, and the jurors are the foundation of our civil justice system.
Hello, I’m Claude Wyle, a San Francisco automobile accident and sudden illness defense attorney. Have an idea for a topic you’d like to see covered here? Feel free to contact me or visit www.ccwlawyers.com