In most car accidents it is relatively easy to identify who is at fault and assign responsibility for the accident and subsequent injuries or damages. In cases where the at-fault driver is under the influence, reckless, or disobeying traffic laws; determining fault is straightforward.
However, in situations where an impairment due to a medical condition is the cause of the other driver’s lapse, assigning liability is not that simple. Some medical emergencies behind such accidents include seizures, sudden cardiac arrests, blackouts due to a sudden drop in blood pressure, and so on.
Often times, drivers may be aware of their pre-existing medical conditions and the possible risk they present, but sometimes, there might not be any prior symptoms or warning. According to some estimates, accidents caused due to a medical emergency constitute about one-fifth of all accidents.
Sudden Medical Emergency Defense
In Virginia, a sudden medical emergency is a sequence of events that demand an urgent action with no time for deliberation or application of conscious judgment. It’s not uncommon for defendants in such accident cases to rely on the medical emergency defense to evade responsibility for the accident. The at-fault drivers claim reprieve by stating that the unfortunate incident was an Act of God.
The medical emergency defense absolves the defendant of liability if a sudden emergency confronts them, and they act without prior oversight, as any other prudent individual under similar circumstances would. The critical point to remember here is that this defense argument does not come into play if the emergency was foreseeable.
Burden of Proof
The defendant claiming relief under the sudden medical emergency defense must prove the following:
- They lost consciousness suddenly, just before the accident
- The driver lost control of their motor vehicle because of the loss of consciousness
- The medical emergency behind the loss of consciousness was unforeseeable
Let us further explore the arguments for and against the sudden emergency defense, and find out the circumstances where it stands the scrutiny of law as well as the exceptions.
The onus is on the defendant and their attorney to establish the abruptness of the emergency. The defense must satisfy the court that the at-fault driver lost consciousness or was overcome with a sudden and unexpected medical situation, and had no chance to avoid or mitigate the medical event.
To determine whether the medical emergency defense applies in a particular motor vehicle accident situation, the defendant needs to convince the court that the medical event was truly unforeseeable in nature. If there is no history of heart ailment, but the other driver suffers a sudden cardiac arrest while driving, it may become easier for them to successfully claim the defense, since they had no reason to foresee the medical emergency.
On the other hand, a driver with a warning or instructions from their doctor about their medical issue, and how it could develop into a medical emergency while driving, will not be able to defend under the assertion of a sudden medical emergency. Especially because they had prior knowledge of their ailment and reasonable inkling of its effect on driving.
The medical issue, as discussed earlier, could be related to heart, blood pressure, or sugar. In case the at-fault driver suffers from diabetes and blacks out at the wheel due to low blood sugar, their failure to eat for a prolonged period prior to driving will be held against them in a court of law.
The recommended course of action for a driver experiencing symptoms that signal a medical emergency, is to pull over until either the symptoms subside, or medical help is available. They may be putting other road users at risk if they fail to ignore the obviously visible symptoms and continue to drive.
Who is Liable to Pay Damages for an Accident Caused by a Medical Emergency?
If you are the victim of an accident where the sudden medical emergency defense is legitimately admissible, you could fail to secure compensation for your personal injuries and other damages. Although it may seem unfair to you as a victim, the law deems holding an individual liable for an event that was unforeseeable, and over which they had no control, as unfair too.
If the defendant has a plausible medical emergency defense, you as a plaintiff can turn to the coverage under your own auto insurance policy to pay for your car repair and medical bills.
Getting Legal Help for an Accident Caused by a Medical Emergency Accident
If you or a loved one is a victim in an accident where the other driver claims a sudden medical emergency defense, you must talk to a competent medical emergency lawyer to ensure the protection of your rights.
An accident involving a medical emergency, and the subsequent claim or lawsuit is difficult to negotiate. Our competent and skilled attorneys at Shapiro, Appleton & Washburn are available to guide you, determine the best available legal options for you, and help you secure your rightful compensation claim.
Call us today at 800-752-0042 or send us a message online to schedule a free and confidential consultation.