California Civil Jury Instructions (CACI)
730. Emergency Vehicle Exemption (Veh. Code, § 21055)
[Name of defendant] claims that [name of public employee] was not required to comply with Vehicle Code section [insert section number] because [he/she] was operating an authorized emergency vehicle and was responding to an emergency at the time of the accident.
To establish that [name of public employee] was not required to comply with section [insert section number], [name of defendant] must prove all of the following:
1. That [name of public employee] was operating an authorized emergency vehicle;
2. That [name of public employee] was responding to an emergency situation at the time of the accident; and
3. That [name of public employee] sounded a siren when reasonably necessary and displayed front red warning lights.
If you decide that [name of defendant] proved all of these things, then you cannot find it negligent for a violation of section [insert section number]. However, even if you decide that [name of defendant] proved all of these things, you may find it negligent if [name of public employee] failed to operate [his/her] vehicle with reasonable care, taking into account the emergency situation.
New September 2003
Directions for Use
For a definition of “emergency,” see CACI No. 731, Definition of “Emergency.”
For a definition of “authorized emergency vehicle,” see Vehicle Code section 165.
Note that Vehicle Code section 17004 provides: “A public employee is not liable for civil damages on account of personal injury to or death of any person or damage to property resulting from the operation, in the line of duty, of an authorized emergency vehicle while responding to an emergency call or when in the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law, or when responding to but not upon returning from a fire alarm or other emergency call.”
Sources and Authority
- Vehicle Code section 21055 provides, in part:
The driver of an authorized emergency vehicle is exempt from [specified Vehicle Code sections] under all of the following conditions:
(a) If the vehicle is being driven in response to an emergency call or while engaged in rescue operations or is being used in the immediate pursuit of an actual or suspected violator of the law or is responding to, but not returning from, a fire alarm, except that fire department vehicles are exempt whether directly responding to an emergency call or operated from one place to another as rendered desirable or necessary by reason of an emergency call and operated to the scene of the emergency or operated from one fire station to another or to some other location by reason of the emergency call.
(b) If the driver of the vehicle sounds a siren as may be reasonably necessary and the vehicle displays a lighted red lamp visible from the front as a warning to other drivers and pedestrians.
- “The purpose of the statute is to provide a ‘clear and speedy pathway’ for these municipal vehicles on their flights to emergencies in which the entire public are necessarily concerned.” (Peerless Laundry Services v. City of Los Angeles (1952) 109 Cal.App.2d 703, 707 [241 P.2d 269].)
- Vehicle Code section 21056 provides: “Section 21055 does not relieve the driver of a vehicle from the duty to drive with due regard for the safety of all persons using the highway, nor protect him from the consequences of an arbitrary exercise of the privileges granted in that section.”
- “The effect of Vehicle Code sections 21055 and 21056 is: where the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle is engaged in a specified emergency function he may violate certain rules of the road, such as speed and right of way laws, if he activates his red light and where necessary his siren in order to alert other users of the road to the situation. In such circumstances the driver may not be held to be negligent solely upon the violation of specified rules of the road, but may be held to be negligent if he fails to exercise due regard for the safety of others under the circumstances. Where the driver of an emergency vehicle fails to activate his red light, and where necessary his siren, he is not exempt from the rules of the road even though he may be engaged in a proper emergency function, and negligence may be based upon the violation of the rules of the road.” (City of Sacramento v. Superior Court (1982) 131 Cal.App.3d 395, 402–403 [182 Cal.Rptr. 443], internal citations omitted.)
- “Notwithstanding [Vehicle Code section 17004], a public entity is liable for injuries proximately caused by negligent acts or omissions in the operation of any motor vehicle by an employee of the public entity, acting within the scope of his or her employment.” (City of San Jose v. Superior Court (1985) 166 Cal.App.3d 695, 698 [212 Cal.Rptr. 661], internal citations omitted.)
- “If the driver of an authorized emergency vehicle is responding to an emergency call and gives the prescribed warnings by red light and siren, a charge of negligence against him may not be predicated on his violation of the designated Vehicle Code sections; but if he does not give the warnings, the contrary is true; and in the event the charged negligence is premised on conduct without the scope of the exemption a common-law standard of care is applicable.” (Grant v. Petronella (1975) 50 Cal.App.3d 281, 286 [123 Cal.Rptr. 399], internal citations omitted.)
- “Where the driver of an emergency vehicle responding to an emergency call does not give the warnings prescribed by section 21055, the legislative warning policy expressed in that section dictates the conclusion [that] the common-law standard of care governing his conduct does not include a consideration of the emergency circumstances attendant upon his response to an emergency call.” (Grant, supra, 50 Cal.App.3d at p. 289, footnote omitted.)
- The exemption created by section 21055 is an affirmative defense, and the defendant must prove compliance with the conditions. (Washington v. City and County of San Francisco (1954) 123 Cal.App.2d 235, 242 [266 P.2d 828].)
- “In short the statute exempts the employer of such a driver from liability for negligence attributable to his failure to comply with specified statutory provisions, but it does not in any manner purport to exempt the employer from liability due to negligence attributable to the driver’s failure to maintain that standard of care imposed by the common law.” (Torres v. City of Los Angeles (1962) 58 Cal.2d 35, 47 [22 Cal.Rptr. 866, 372 P.2d 906].)
5 Witkin, Summary of California Law (10th ed. 2005) Torts, §§ 297, 331–335
2 Government Tort Liability Practice (Cont.Ed.Bar 4th ed.) §§ 11.140–11.144
2 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 20, Motor Vehicles, § 20.55 (Matthew Bender)
20 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 246, Emergency Vehicles (Matthew Bender)