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Hit by an Ambulance?  Watch Out! You May Have Less Time Than You Think!

The general rule in California is that you have two years to file a lawsuit for injuries/losses arising out of an automobile accident (CCP § 335.1).  Of course, there are some exceptions.  Notably, whenever a public entity is involved, you are required to adhere to the applicable public entity claims requirements (usually requiring a claim within 6 months).

A new opinion by the Court of Appeal for the Sixth District seems to have created a new exception to the 2 year rule – ambulances.  Gutierrez v. Tostado, 2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 935

In that case, Gutierrez was driving on Interstate 280 when he was forced to stop. Shortly after Gutierrez stopped, Tostado, who was driving an ambulance, rear-ended him. At the time of the accident, Tostado was an emergency medical technician (EMT) employed by ProTransport-1, LLC and was transporting a patient from one medical facility to another. While Tostado drove, his partner attended to the patient in the rear of the ambulance.

After attempts to resolve the matter informally failed, Gutierrez filed suit against Tostado and the ambulance company, almost two years after the date of the collision.  Tostado and ProTransport-1 filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the lawsuit was barred by MICRA’s one-year statute of limitations.

As a quick aside, MICRA refers to the series of laws that govern cases involving medical negligence/malpractice.  Under these laws, there’s generally a one-year statute of limitations (of course, many exceptions apply).

The trial court granted the Motion for Summary judgment, dismissing Gutierrez’s case against Tostado and ProTransport-1 finding that MICRA did apply to this matter because, in transporting a patient at the time of the incident, defendant Tostado was “rendering professional services.”  Gutierrez appealed.

On appeal, Gutierrez argued that his case was not time-barred because MICRA did not govern this case as his case against Tostado was one for negligence and not “professional negligence.”  He further argued that the duty that Tostado violated by crashing into his car was a duty of care generally owed to the public, not a professional duty owed by a medical provider as contemplated by MICRA.

The Court of Appeal framed the issues:

In this appeal we must decide whether a driver in a separate vehicle, injured in a collision with an ambulance transporting a patient, was injured as a result of the provision of medical care, such that MICRA’s one year statute applies. Gutierrez urges us to find that any injury here was caused by ordinary negligence. He argues that where a medical provider owes no professional duty to the plaintiff and allegedly breaches only a duty owed to the general public, a claim for personal injuries should be governed by the two-year statute of limitations applicable to ordinary negligence. Conversely, respondent suggests that the critical question is not whether defendant owed plaintiff a professional duty, but simply whether plaintiff was injured as a result of the provision of medical services by defendant; in other words, was plaintiff’s injury a foreseeable consequence of defendant’s act of providing medical care?

Gutierrez v. Tostado, 2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 935, *4-5

[T]he question here is whether an injury to a third party, who is not a patient, is subject to MICRA’s statute of limitations because the injury occurred during, and as a result of, the provision of medical care by a medical provider.

Gutierrez v. Tostado, 2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 935, *10

Ultimately, the Court of Appeal found:

The provision of ambulance services involves driving on the road, sometimes at a very high speed. Getting a patient to the hospital quickly is often as integral to the provision of this medical service as performing CPR or administering medication intravenously. It is, therefore, entirely foreseeable that collisions may occur where third parties are injured. The fact that Tostado was not driving quickly here or that Gutierrez was in a separate vehicle rather than in the ambulance does not change the analysis or our conclusion that third parties injured in a collision with an ambulance when it is rendering medical care are subject to MICRA.

Gutierrez v. Tostado, 2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 935, *12

The Court of Appeal for the Sixth District held:

[1]-Personal injury claims brought by a driver who had been injured in a collision with an ambulance were not governed by the two-year statute of limitations for negligence in Code Civ. Proc., § 335.1, but rather were time-barred under the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act’s one-year statute of limitations for professional negligence in Code Civ. Proc., § 340.5, because the ambulance driver was a medical provider rendering professional services and § 340.5 was not limited to suits by patients or recipients of medical services, but also applied to others foreseeably injured in the course of rendering medical care;

[2]-Although the ambulance driver might have owed a duty to the general public to drive safely when not transporting a patient, the suit was one for professional negligence because ambulance transport was integrally related to the provision of medical care.

It is likely this matter will be appealed to the Supreme Court of California but, until then, be very mindful of time-limits if you have been involved in an accident with an ambulance.

Additionally, aside from the time limitations imposed by MICRA, there are other unanswered questions raised by this ruling.  Will auto accidents, such as the one Mr. Gutierrez suffered, also be limited by the same damages caps under MICRA?  Will such auto accidents be limited to $350,000.00 (or the applicable MICRA limit) for pain and suffering in ALL circumstances?  There is much to still learn after this ruling.

If you or a loved one have been injured in a vehicle accident, call the experienced injury attorneys at Heiting & Irwin for a free consultation (951) 682-6400.  You can also visit us online at

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