Proving Liability When a Driver Invokes the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense

Woman clutching her chest in pain behind the wheel of a carWhen a driver who caused an accident claims he or she had a sudden medical emergency, and he or she can prove it, that driver may not be held liable for your damages under California’s doctrine of imminent peril.

However, it is important to understand that the burden of proof lies with the individual claiming this defense. Proving liability may be complex and should be done with help from an experienced attorney.

If you were injured by a driver who is trying to avoid liability by claiming he or she suffered a sudden medical emergency, you should strongly consider speaking to one of our auto accident attorneys in Sacramento.

Our attorneys have decades of combined experience and have a track record of successfully recovering maximum compensation on behalf of our clients.


Also called the sudden emergency defense, the doctrine of imminent peril only applies in limited circumstances. According to a California court ruling, one of those circumstances is if a person suffers a medical emergency while driving and causes an accident.

For the medical emergency defense to be successful in court, the person making the claim must prove the following:

  • The sudden illness was physical and not mental.
  • The driver could not have had any prior knowledge of a potential onset of the illness.
  • The illness must have made it impossible for the driver to control the vehicle.


In most personal injury cases, the burden of proof falls to the injury victim who needs to prove someone else’s negligence caused an accident that resulted in his or her damages.

However, that burden of proof shifts to the at-fault driver when the sudden medical emergency defense is invoked to avoid liability.

Any indication from the driver’s medical records that may point to the possibility of foreseeing the medical emergency may be used to discredit this defense. Having a knowledgeable attorney on your side may benefit you, as obtaining medical records may require a court order.


If the driver can successfully prove he or she did suffer an unforeseen medical emergency, there may still be other parties who may be liable for your damages. For example, you may be able to hold that driver’s treating physician liable if he or she medically cleared the person to get behind the wheel of a vehicle even though his or her medical condition was not stable.

Additionally, if your accident involved other parties who contributed to the crash, you may still be able to recover compensation from that person’s liability insurance.

Every case is different, so it is important to discuss the details of your claim with a licensed attorney who may be able to analyze the facts and determine who else may be liable for your damages.


While California is an at-fault state, meaning your injuries are covered by the liability insurance of the at-fault driver, you do have the option to add Personal Injury Protection (PIP) or MedPay benefits to your own auto insurance policy to help cover your medical bills and lost wages. Drivers also have the option to include collision coverage to cover the costs of property damage, which is usually required by lienholders if your vehicle is leased or financed.

If you do not have PIP or MedPay to pay your medical bills, you may be able to use your own health insurance to help cover the costs of treatment. Unfortunately, your health insurance will most likely not cover any lost wages if you are unable to work after the accident.

Let our attorneys review your insurance policy to see what options may be available to you for recovering the compensation you need.


Proving liability for an accident in which an at-fault driver claims it was caused by an unforeseen medical emergency may be complicated. It is important to have a knowledgeable attorney on your side.

Our attorneys have decades of combined experience and are prepared to help build a robust case to help pursue the maximum compensation for your medical bills, lost wages and other damages.

We offer a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your claim and see what legal options may be available to you.

Call us today at (916) 777-7777 to schedule your call.