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Hammontree v. Jenner

Melissa A. Hale

ProfessorMelissa A. Hale

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Hammontree v. Jenner

Citation. Hammontree v. Jenner, 20 Cal. App. 3d 528, 97 Cal. Rptr. 739, 1971)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Jenner (Defendant) had an elliptic seizure while driving his car and crashed into Plaintiff’s store causing personal injuries and property damage. Plaintiff sued in negligence and absolute liability. The court refused to impose absolute liability.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Liability of a driver, suddenly stricken by an illness rendering him unconscious, for injury resulting from an accident occurring during that time rests on principles of negligence.


Defendant was driving home from work when he experienced an epileptic seizure and crashed his car through the wall of a bicycle shop owned by Hammontree and her husband (Plaintiff). Defendant had a history of epilepsy. Defendant was under the constant care of a neurologist. The Neurologist testified that he believed it was safe for Defendant to operate a motor vehicle, even though it was impossible for Defendant to drive during an epileptic seizure. Plaintiff sued Defendant for personal injuries and property damage arising out of the automobile accident. The trial court refused to give the jury an instruction on strict absolute liability. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendant. Plaintiff appealed.


Is Defendant liable to Plaintiff for injuries sustained in a car crash resulting from Defendant’s unexpected epileptic seizure, even though doctors told Defendant that it was safe for him to drive?


No. Judgment for Defendant affirmed.
* Liability of a driver, suddenly stricken by an illness rendering him unconscious, for injury resulting from an accident occurring during the illness time rests on principles of negligence. The trial court was right to refuse to allow a jury instruction that would have held Defendant responsible for the injuries to Plaintiff on a theory of strict liability.
* Plaintiff seeks to have the court adopt a standard of strict liability. Plaintiff cites cases where a manufacturer was held strictly liable in tort when an article he placed on the market, knowing that it is to be used without inspection for defects, proves to have a defect, which causes injury. Plaintiff argues that only a driver who is affected by a physical condition, which would render him unconscious, and who is aware of this condition can anticipate the hazards and foresee the dangers. Thus the liability of the driver should be predicated on strict liability.
* The court refuses to superimpose the absolute liability of products liability cases upon drivers under the circumstances here. Manufacturers in products liability cases are engaged in the business of distributing goods to the public for a profit and thus should bear the cost of injuries from defective products.
* To invoke a rule of strict liability on users of the streets and highways, without also establishing in substantial detail how this new rule should operate, would only contribute confusion to the automobile accident problem. It is up to the legislature to enact a comprehensive plan for the compensation of automobile accident victims in place of or in addition to the law of negligence.
* The jury instruction was also refused because it does not except from its ambit the driver who suddenly is stricken by an illness or physical condition which he had no reason to anticipate and of which he had no prior knowledge.


Plaintiff sought absolute liability, but the court refused to expand absolute liability beyond cases dealing with merchants and products liability.

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