A sudden medical emergency can occur at any time, even while driving. But when a driver sustains a heart attack or stroke that causes a car accident, are they considered liable? The short answer is that it depends on state law.
Using Sudden Health Emergency as a Defense
In the majority of U.S. states, the Sudden Medical/Health Emergency Defense may relieve the driver of possible liability for a collision if their health emergency can be proven to have been unforeseen. The main premise regarding personal injury claims is that an individual may be held liable for costs connected with an accident if they caused it due to negligence. However, a sudden health emergency defense may absolve a person from liability if their health crisis caused the accident, rather than negligence.
The Importance of Foreseeability
Foreseeability is considered a key legal concept as it will be used to ascertain whether a defendant should have realistically anticipated that an action or inaction would lead to the injury of the other party. An individual cannot be held liable for the injury of another if the harm did not result from negligence. If an accident resulted from a health emergency, the defendant must prove the following:
- That they lost consciousness suddenly
- That their unconsciousness resulted from something outside their control
- That their unconsciousness caused a loss of vehicular control which caused the accident
It is essential for the health crisis to have occurred suddenly, preventing the driver from being able to mitigate it. For instance, if it can be proven that the defendant had time to pull over prior to the collision, then they may be held liable, but if their unconsciousness occurred suddenly, without warning, they may not be held liable. There are a number of health conditions that can cause a sudden loss of consciousness, which includes:
- Blacking out for fainting
- Brain aneurysm
- Heart attack
In order for a defendant to win their case, they must present medical records which not only prove they have a health emergency that can cause sudden unconsciousness, but that it occurred at the time of the collision. However, it must be emphasized that your medical records may actually be used against you. An example of this would be getting a diagnosis for a medical condition, and not following up with doctors. Or you were prescribed medication that could control the condition but you didn’t use it on the day of your accident. Finally, if your doctor warned you not to drive, and you did it anyway, you would be held liable.
In these types of legal disputes, the plaintiff or injured party will usually want the defendant to pay their medical bills, while the defendant or individual that caused the collision may feel they shouldn’t be held financially liable since the accident resulted from a health emergency that was unforeseen. Ultimately, financial liability will be determined by whether the collision occurred in the no fault or at fault jurisdiction.
If the accident occurred in no fault states like Florida, Utah, or Kentucky, both parties would need to use their respective insurance for expense coverage irrespective of fault, but if the collision occurred in a state with at fault law, a plaintiff must use their own personal insurance if the defendant succeeds with their sudden health emergency defense.