Harb v. City of BakersfieldAnnotate this Case
Dr. Harb, driving home from his shift in a neonatal intensive care unit, suffered a stroke and drove onto a sidewalk. The responding officer deduced from Harb’s vomiting, slurred speech and disorientation that he was intoxicated and, after a struggle, placed him in handcuffs. The first ambulance that arrived left without Harb. A second ambulance took Harb to a hospital. He survived, but is unable to care for himself. Harb sued the city, the officer, the ambulance company, and the first paramedic. A jury returned a defense verdict. The court of appeal reversed. An instruction that an officer is not liable if exercising due care was unnecessary because Harb was already required to prove negligence. Use of the phrase “exercising due care” without definition, and without explaining how it related to the reasonable care standard in the negligence instructions, created an ambiguity; it is unlikely the jurors would have understood there was no immunity for an officer who acted negligently. The jury also should not have been instructed on comparative negligence. Harb’s alleged failure to manage his high blood pressure occurred before the accident. Where a plaintiff is seeking damages only for the aggravation of a condition, plaintiff’s preaccident conduct cannot constitute comparative negligence when that conduct merely triggers the occasion for aid.