Plaintiff Mohamad Harb, MD, suffered a stroke while driving home from the hospital and was involved in a single-car accident. The Bakersfield police officer who responded to the scene was convinced that Dr. Harb was drunk or on drugs, and refused to allow an ambulance to transport him to the hospital. As a result of the delay, Dr. Harb suffered catastrophic brain damage. At trial, the City proposed a confusing, redundant police-immunity instruction, and also convinced the trial court to instruct on comparative fault. This allowed the City to argue that Dr. Harb alone was responsible for his condition, since he failed to take his blood-pressure medicine. The jury returned a defense verdict. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeal reversed.
The Court agreed that it was prejudicial error to give the police-immunity instruction, and that it was also improper for the court to instruct on comparative fault based on Dr. Harb’s pre-treatment negligence. In a case of first impression, the Court held that in California, medical providers and first responders cannot ask the jury to weigh their negligence in providing substandard care against the circumstances that caused the need for care in the first instance. Harb v. City of Bakersfield (2015) 233 Cal.App.4th 606, 183 Cal.Rptr.3d 59,