Personal Injury and the defense of “Imminent Peril”
If you are like us, the first time you heard the phrase “imminent peril,” it probably made you think of something having to do more with criminal law and self-defense. While there is an “imminent peril” doctrine that is pertinent to criminal law, perhaps Khalil Law group is the first to inform you that there are also rules and legislation with regard to personal injury and imminent peril.
Generally, when we think of personal injury, we assume car accidents, slip and falls, etc. We also make assumptions that someone was at fault and committed some sort of act or omission that resulted in another person being injured. For instance, if someone is on their phone and they ram into your car, they were being negligent. Or, if someone runs a red light and creates a 5 car pile, they were being negligent. Those are seemingly cut and dry cases.
However, what happens when an injury occurs as a result of an incident that could not be reasonably foreseen? What happens if someone has a heart attack and slams into you? In that case, things are very different. Herein lies the doctrine of imminent peril for personal injury claims.
The state of California, along with several other states, has a defense to a negligence claim, wherein an accident occurred as a result of an unforeseen incident. At its heart, this is what we mean when we say “imminent peril.” This is a controversial law, to say the least. While we all certainly sympathize and, often, empathize with the harsh realities of someone causing a car accident due to, say… a heart attack, we also have to remember that California mandates that drivers carry car insurance. So, isn’t that what insurance is for? Don’t we pay large sums of money out of our hard-earned paychecks to protect ourselves from ALL potential pitfalls of being on the road and operating large hunks of motorized metal?
Well, the simple answer is NO! We told you…. its controversial.
In the State of California, an insurance company and its insured may have a partial or complete defense under the California rules of imminent peril, also known as, the immediate (sudden) emergency defense.
The immediate emergency defense is applicable when a potential defendant is acting with reasonable care but is suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with an emergency that the potential defendant did not cause or how a valid reason to believe could have occurred. As used above, an example of such an event could be a heart attack.
However, in order to use the imminent peril defense, a defendant and their insurance company must prove the following:
- There was a sudden, unexpected emergency in which someone was in actual or apparent danger of immediate injury;
- The defendant did not cause the emergency;
- The defendant acted as a reasonably careful person would have acted, even if an alternate action may have been safer.
If we are to apply the same example of a heart attack, the case may or may not fall on whether or not the potential defendant could have anticipated that this would occur while she/he was behind the wheel. For instance, let’s say that the potential defendant suffered from high blood pressure, would that change the defendant’s ability to argue that they should be absolved from liability on the basis of imminent peril. In our opinion, the answer is ABSOLUTELY. We would argue that a medical condition that makes the likelihood of a heart attack go up should have and could have been foreseen. In that case, the defendant and their insurance provider should be held responsible for the ensuing accident.
If you have any questions regarding the doctrine of sudden emergency/imminent peril or any other legal questions, do not hesitate to reach out to Khalil Law Group, APC for a FREE consultation.