"It Was an Emergency"  

Of all the general defenses that you can use when hit by a parking ticket, medical emergency is probably my favorite.  

Of course, if you’re having a medical emergency it’s most likely no picnic for you - and a parking ticket is the absolute last thing on your mind. But once your emergency is over (and hopefully all is well) you can begin to appreciate just how great a defense a medical emergency is.

                 The reason that the “medical emergency defense” is so wonderful is that it’s unbelievably sweeping. Parked at a fire hydrant? No problem. Left your car in a bus zone? No worries. Pulled over into a handicapped spot? “Fuhgedd-about-it.” It’s all good.

                 So what’s the catch?

                 There is none. But before you rush out and claim that your car was parked there because of an emergency there are a few things that you’d better know. Call these mini-catches.

 Mini-Catch #1:

                 The emergency has to involve a human being. No joke. As a judge I’ve seen people claim that they had to park at a hydrant because their cat was having kidney problems, or their kid’s hamster had a broken leg and even, in one memorable case, that the pet dog was vomiting all over their car’s brand-new leather interior.

                 None of these are what the Parking Bureau will admit were real “medical emergencies.” And sure, we all know that’s a bit unfair. After all, who wants dog puke all over the new car? Not to mention the grief your child will give you if the beloved family cat dies of kidney failure. But take heed: the next time that you want to tell the judge you took the handicapped spot because your bird stopped chirping or because your lizard lost its camouflaging skills - don’t say that you weren’t warned. A “medical emergency” it isn’t.

                 But let’s say that your emergency involves a real human being. Homo sapiens. Hell, let’s say you don’t even like animals - or that your idea of an afternoon sport is to cause a few deer to have “medical emergencies” that they won’t recover from. Does that mean you’re in the clear?

                 Not exactly.

                 Because your idea of an “emergency” and a parking judge’s idea of an emergency don’t always match.

                 Which brings us to:

 Mini-Catch #2:

                 The need to pee is not a medical emergency.

                 This is a fun one. A mother with a mini-van stuffed with kids pulls over into a no standing zone because no less than three of her darlings are screaming that they’ll pee in their undies if they don’t get relief.

                 Do I feel pity for her?  Do I ever.  But unless she can find some other excuse, she’s probably going to wish she just paid for a Laundromat instead. It’s bound to be cheaper than the fine that the Parking Bureau says not to even mitigate (more on that later).

                 Or how about the truck driver who’s been on the road all night, drowning himself in coffee that now desperately wants to escape from him? Er, better hold it in a bit longer there, mister - at least until you find somewhere legal to park.  Because you’re not going to get much sympathy from the judge. (Not sympathy that will help you, at any rate; however much we feel inside, we still have to uphold the law as interpreted by the City).

                 Or my personal favorite, mostly because the guy who wrote it tried to be a bit sneaky: The story about a patient who had urological problems (so far so good - and he even supplied a doctor’s note) and he therefore had to stop to urinate immediately.  Because his bladder simply couldn’t hold it in.  Which would have been a great defense, had he been driving when the urge came. But this bloke was charged with overtime parking - and he had already been parked there for 40 minutes too long when he got the ticket!  Now if only the doctor had written that it often took his patient an hour to urinate...

                 Which brings us to the point: if you really can’t hold it in and you must park illegally, at the very least try to park in a place where the fine is relatively light because you probably will be paying it. 

                I should add that new parking judges always feel bad about having to uphold fines in these kinds of cases - but it’s nothing compared to: 


                 Pregnancy is not an automatic get-out-of-this-ticket-free card.

                 Every so often a husband will write in that he had no choice but to double park in front of his building, because his eight-month pregnant wife needed to lie down, pronto.  And he needed to help her up the stairs.  The first time I saw this I ended up getting scolded by a senior judge for wanting to give the guy a break. 

                “She needed to lie down?”  The senior judge (who was a woman) asked.  “Needing to lie down isn’t an emergency.  If it was a real emergency, the only place he would have been double parking in front of is a hospital.”

                 So the poor guy ended up with a whopping fine - and my unspoken sympathy. [If he had helped her just to the curb, I could’ve done something for him, as you’re allowed to drop off a passenger while double parked, and she could have been considered a person needing assistance to exit the car].

                 The next time I encountered the “pregnant defense” was a nine-month pregnant woman who pulled over at a bus stop because her vision blurred. Unlike the first case, here – finally! – was a real “medical emergency.”  After all, the last thing any city needs is a driver who’s feeling dizzy, or whose vision is off.  And pregnant women are more believable (sorry, guys) when it comes to sudden spells of feeling faint.

                 My advice?  If you’re trying to get out of a ticket because you’re pregnant, you’re only likely to succeed if there was something genuinely wrong – and a doctor’s note sure would help. [No guarantees, though; I know of one judge who found a husband guilty even though the doctor’s note testified that his wife was busy giving birth and desperately wanted the father with her].

                 Speaking of doctors, I ought to mention:

 Mini-Catch #4:

                 Having a doctor’s appointment does not mean it was a medical emergency.

                 It seems silly, at first blush, that this one is true – but there it is. Let’s say that you’re having a stomach problem.  You call up your gastroenterologist, she says to come right over and you, grateful for the quick appointment, park wherever you can.  In your state of mind, all you can think is: To hell with the fire department – there are, after all, other hydrants on the street.

                 So you get a ticket, plead a medical emergency and even get the M.D. to write up your whole medical history to back you up. [In some cases, I should add, the M.D. feels compelled to add in a financial hardship argument too – I’ve seen doctors’ notes that seem to be more about complaining about not getting paid than about their patient’s condition]. And you breathe easy.

                 Only you shouldn’t.  Because, fair or not, the judge is likely to tell you that any scheduled appointment, by definition, is not such an emergency that you couldn’t take the time to park legally.  Oops.  So much for sympathy.

                 But don’t fret too much, because doctors themselves can’t always be “physicians that help themselves,” due to:

 Mini-Catch #5:

                 Doctors don’t always get off.

                 I deal more with this in the chapter devoted to doctors, but for here, let me say this: An emergency means an emergency.  Pulling over to the curb to make a phone call because you’re on call or visiting a patient whose disease/injury is not life-threatening or urgent just won’t cut it.  And, really, you don’t have to be so snotty when you write in your plea. (And no, I’ve nothing against doctors).