Continuing our series on causes of action under a negligence theory (see Injury Accident Cause of Action? Negligence) stemming from a car accident, trucking accident (i.e., “big rig” or “semi truck”), motorcycle crash or other personal injury accident, this post will look at the culpability of someone who is responsible for an injury accident, but at the time of the accident, was either physically or mentally disabled. Much like how California law applies a different standard of care to the at-fault party who is a minor (see Standard of Care for Minors After an Injury Accident), the same is true for someone suffering from a physical disability at the time of the accident. California Civil Jury Instruction 403 reads, “A person with a physical disability is required to use the amount of care that a reasonably careful person who has the same physical disability would use in the same situation.” This language is much like the language of the jury instruction when the tortfeasor (i.e., at-fault party) is a minor. There is a distinction that must be noted. This jury instruction applies to someone with a physical disability, not to someone who caused an accident because of a mental disability. Simply put, if someone causes personal injuries to another person while he/she suffers from some mental disability, he/she will be held civilly liable for his/her actions under the usual negligence standard of care inquiry. This notion is codified in the California Civil Code Section 41, which reads, “A person of unsound mind, of whatever degree, is civilly liable for a wrong done by the person, but is not liable in exemplary damages unless at the time of the act the person was capable of knowing that the act was wrongful.” The court in Bashi v. Wodarz (1995) held that this rule applies to negligence causes of action. The term exemplary damages is synonymous with the “punitive damages” (see Recent DUI Hit and Run… for a discussion on punitive damages). There is a distinction to be made, though, with regard to contributory negligence. Much like a child under the age of five automatically escapes any and all contributory negligence liability, a mentally disabled person also escapes liability if he/she is deemed completely insane. In fact, the court in Fox v. City and County of San Francisco (1975) found that mental deficiency that does not rise to the level of insanity does not excuse conduct that is otherwise contributory negligence. Contact the Steven Dhillon Law Firm today for a free consultation if you have been injured in an auto accident or other personal injury matter and need assistance today.
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