When two cars collide, usually one driver or the other (or both) played a role in causing the crash. However, rare situations involving a medical emergency may be an exception that allows a driver to avoid liability even if they were technically at fault. The sudden medical emergency defense applies when a driver was affected by an unforeseeable medical issue outside their control. This means that they cannot be considered negligent.
Elements of the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense
A sudden medical emergency defense involves showing that the driver lost consciousness immediately before the accident, and this caused them to lose control of the vehicle. The emergency must be sudden, giving the driver no time to react and prevent or reduce the severity of the crash. In other words, if a driver started to notice symptoms of a health condition before the crash, the defense probably will not apply. The driver will be expected to pull over rather than ignoring the symptoms.
Foreseeability is often a contested element in these cases. If a driver has no medical history of a certain condition, and then it arises immediately before the accident, the lack of foreseeability element likely is met. By contrast, if they have dealt with similar episodes in the past, the onset of the condition may be foreseeable. Drivers are expected to keep up with medications prescribed to them to treat serious health conditions and to refrain from driving if their doctor requires. For example, if a driver has no history of heart problems, a heart attack behind the wheel probably would qualify as a sudden medical emergency. On the other hand, if a driver has been seeing a cardiologist who has advised them not to drive, they probably could not use this defense if they suffer a heart attack behind the wheel.
Options for Victims of Accidents Caused by Medical Emergencies
At first glance, a victim may think that they have no recourse if the driver who caused the crash was suffering from a sudden medical emergency. However, not every state recognizes this defense, so you should consult an attorney to find out if it may apply. If you live in a state that uses no-fault car insurance, moreover, your own insurance will cover injuries and damage no matter the circumstances. Drivers who make the prudent decision to purchase their own car insurance also can use that policy to cover medical expenses and vehicle repairs. (This does involve paying the deductible and accepting the possibility of higher premiums in the future.)
Accidents Caused by Drivers with Disabilities
In contrast to drivers who suffer from sudden medical emergencies, drivers with known disabilities cannot use their disability as a defense if they cause a crash. They are expected to follow road rules and drive as safely as any other driver. Standard negligence rules apply to determine their liability if they cause a crash. If they have a restricted license, they will be expected to comply with the restrictions on their license. Failing to comply with the restrictions or failing to comply with a doctor’s guidelines will be strong evidence of negligence. For example, a driver who does not have the use of his legs may need to install hand controls to allow him to operate the pedals. If he does not install the controls and learn how to use them, he can be liable for an accident that he causes. Meanwhile, if the controls malfunction, their manufacturer may share at least some of the fault for the accident.