The Impact of a Previously Unknown Medical Condition on Car Accident Cases in Georgia
It is common to hear about an accident that occurred on a clear day with no obvious cause. Frequently those accidents are attributed to reckless driving, texting and driving, or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Sometimes, however, it is discovered that the driver had a medical condition that led to the accident. This recently was the focus of a story out of Damascus, Virginia earlier this year where a driver in a parade plowed into marchers and pedestrians. The driver injured nearly sixty people after allegedly experiencing a medical episode that caused him to accelerate and drive his vehicle, which was part of the parade, into the crowd in front of him. In a situation like this, the question becomes, “is he responsible for his actions?”
It may be difficult to demonstrate liability in an accident that was caused by a medical emergency. However, if there was prior knowledge of the underlying medical condition and the driver was aware that his health issues could lead to a seizure or loss of consciousness that could cause an accident, then he had the responsibility to avoid a situation where he could do harm to himself and others. This knowledge frequently is ascribed to those with epilepsy, diabetes, certain heart conditions, and other medical statuses that are known to lead to loss of consciousness or incapacitation. A driver with a medical diagnose that falls within these categories has an obligation to act responsibly. Specifically, he has a duty to turn over his driver’s license and stay away from the driver’s seat of a vehicle as this is what a reasonable driver exercising ordinary care would do. If he did not do this, there may be a very good chance of proving negligence against the driver. However, it is not always that simple when an accident has occurred.
A driver with a medical condition that led to a motor vehicle accident and injuries to another person may assert that he had no knowledge of the condition as a defense against liability and the award of damages to the injured victims. This end-run around culpability is referred to by many names, but often is referred to as the sudden medical emergency defense. In order to assert this defense, the driver must show that the medical incident and subsequent accident were not foreseeable. The attorney representing the injured party will need to rely on medical evidence to refute this defense and demonstrate that the accident was, in fact, predictable.
To assert the defense, the driver’s attorney will need to show:
- The defendant was rendered unconscious or incapacitated suddenly (without time to react);
- The incapacitation or lack of consciousness was caused by an unforeseeable medical condition; and
- The sudden medical emergency caused the driver to lose control of his motor vehicle. It was this resultant loss of control that caused the accident that harmed the plaintiff.
It is critical that an injured party retain a qualified attorney to represent his interests in a case involving a sudden medical emergency defense as the dispute and possible litigation is going to require extensive fact investigation and a thorough review of prior medical records to demonstrate knowledge and foreseeability.
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