SUV Plummets Fifty Feet from Atlanta Overpass When Driver Suffers Medical Emergency
A scary crash involving an SUV that slammed through a guardrail and fell fifty feet from an overpass apparently was caused by a medical emergency involving the driver of the SUV. While the news report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution indicated that the vehicle occupants suffered only minor injuries, this type of road departure collision off an overpass or embankment typically results in far more extensive injuries.
Because the preliminary reports from the Atlanta police indicate that the driver suffered a medical emergency, this accident raises an interesting issue about the rights of the passengers to recover against the driver if they had suffered serious injury.
As a general matter, passengers in vehicles operated by a negligent driver may be eligible to recover damages if the passengers suffer injury in a collision caused by the driver’s lack of care. However, the driver must have engaged in driving that constitutes a failure to exercise reasonable care to prevent foreseeable injury to passengers in the vehicle or others with whom the driver shares the road. When a driver causes a collision because he is incapacitated by a medical emergency, this may mitigate his culpability so that he is not negligent. This is only true if the driver did not have reason to anticipate the potential medical emergency.
The driver may know that he has a medical condition or that he is under a doctor’s care, which might result in an incapacitating medical emergency. An obvious example would be a driver who has a history of seizures or diabetic blackouts. The key issue in such a case might be whether the past pattern of health issues should have made it foreseeable that such a medical emergency might occur while the driver was operating a motor vehicle. This determination may be made by reviewing medical records, obtaining expert testimony from medical experts and similar forms of evidence.
Even if the driver is involved in a single car road departure accident that is the result of a sudden unforeseeable medical emergency, this does not necessarily mean that there are no options for financial recovery by injured passengers. The manufacturer of the vehicle may be liable if a product defect associated with the vehicle played a role in the collision. Public entities responsible for highway safety may also be financially responsible if a dangerous road contributed to the collision. As an example, the speed limit may be too high, curves insufficiently marked or guardrails absent.
When medical incapacity results in a road departure accident, the risk of injury to passengers is far greater. These accidents may involve vehicle rollovers that result in vehicle ejections or roof crush injuries. Obviously, the force generated when a vehicle falls from an elevation like an overpass or drop-off can cause potentially devastating injuries like spinal cord damage, traumatic brain injuries, paralysis, loss of limbs and other forms of serious injury and wrongful death.
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