Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What If You're Hit By A Driver Who Claims A "Sudden Medical Emergency" Caused The Crash?

Particularly with elderly drivers, sometimes the claim is made that their driver error (like going left of center or heading down the wrong lane of a road or highway) and resulting crash was caused by a "sudden medical emergancy." Is this a valid defense in an Ohio injury lawsuit when the driver crashes into another vehicle and injures occupants of another vehicle?

The Ohio Supreme Court has recognized a sudden medical emergency defense, which provides that a driver suddenly stricken by an unanticipated period of consciousness is not negligent and can't be held liable for losing control of his vehicle. The theory behind such a defense is that the driver's actions were involuntary. However, to qualify for the defense, the defendant must prove that he had no reason to anticipate or foresee the sudden loss of consciousness.

The foreseeability of a medical event is the real issue in these cases. For example, a driver with a history of diabetes and frequent low blood sugars (known as hypoglycemia) cannot claim a "sudden medical emergency" if he or she loses consciousness, because losing consciousness under these circumstances would be a known consequence of low blood sugars, and therefore foreseeable.

The same would hold true for a driver with a history of epilpsy or a heart condition. In fact, the only true instance of a "sudden medical emergency" would be the onset of a serious condition that had not been diagnosed prior to the driver losing consciousness, like a first time heart attack of a driver with no known history of any heart problems.

In these cases, the prior medical history of the driver (including whether the driver was taking prescribed medications, or had failed to take his or her meds around the time of the crash) is crucial in determining whether this is a valid defense, or simply an attempt by the driver's insurance company to deny responsibility for the driver's negligence. And infrequently, when the driver passes away due to the crash, an autopsy is necessary to determine levels of medication usage, and whether the medical condition was "chronic," occurred immediately before the crash, or was triggered after the crash.

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