Understanding When a Sudden Medical Emergency Constitutes a Defense to Liability


January 06, 2016

When a driver is injured after being rear-ended by a motor vehicle while stopped at a red light, the injury victim might presume that liability is so clear that retaining an attorney is unnecessary. However, many people find out that car accident claims that supposedly involve "clear liability" all too often become contentious disputes because insurance companies have experienced insurance defense lawyers and crash reconstruction experts. When individuals injured in auto accidents attempt to handle their own legal claims, they often fail to realize how misguided this strategy is until it is too late.

The rear-ender at a red light example might sound like an obvious case of negligence by the driver that slams into the car stopped at the traffic light. However, the at-fault driver might claim to have been rendered unconscious by a sudden medical emergency. Although a medical condition or illness does not necessarily excuse a driver's failure to operate a motor vehicle safely, a driver who is rendered unconscious or otherwise medically incapacitated might have a viable defense to liability.

Drivers of motor vehicles generally have a duty to exercise ordinary, reasonable, or due care to avoid causing foreseeable injury to others when operating a motor vehicle. Crashing into a car from behind that is stopped at a red light typically will constitute negligent conduct. However, the issue is whether a medical condition or illness that incapacitates a driver was foreseeable.

Legal representation by an experienced Georgia car accident lawyer is important in this situation because drivers often claim they were incapacitated by a medical condition to avoid liability. A motorist might claim that he or she was suddenly disabled by a diabetic episode, heart attack, cramp, seizure, stroke, severe sneezing fit, mental delusion, or other medical condition that caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle or otherwise drive unsafely. The challenge for an injury victim in this situation is to establish that the alleged medical emergency is either fabricated or that the condition was foreseeable.

The process of exposing that an-fault driver is lying about a medical condition to avoid liability can be challenging. If the claimed condition is a stroke or heart attack, this type of false claim might be exposed by obtaining medical records or taking the deposition of the at-fault driver's physician. A personal injury attorney can use discovery to seek confidential medical records and request a release of medical information.

While a heart attack or stroke might be fairly easy to contest by obtaining medical records or a doctor's testimony, there are conditions referred to as "syncope" that present a much more serious challenge. This term refers a short loss of consciousness that generally involves a sudden onset which lasts only a brief period and resolves quickly on its own. Although it can be caused by reduced blood flow to the entire brain often related to low blood pressure, diagnosis of the condition often eludes physicians even with extensive efforts to determine the cause or existence of the condition.

Nonetheless, drivers can be liable if a sudden medical emergency was reasonably foreseeable. If the driver had been ill or started to feel poorly prior to the accident, a loss of consciousness might be reasonably foreseeable. Similarly, a driver with a history of epileptic seizures or diabetic incidents that cause a loss of consciousness also might not be able to claim an unanticipated medical emergency as a defense to liability.

The example of claimed unanticipated medical emergencies as a defense demonstrates the importance of legal representation in car accident claims even if fault seems fairly obvious. 

Put Our Law Firm's Over 30 Years of Experience to Work For Your Claim

If you or a family member is injured in a car crash, our Auto Accident Lawyers are committed to helping our clients understand their legal rights and to aggressively pursuing financial compensation for injury victims. Montlick and Associates, Attorneys at Law, has been representing those who suffer serious injuries in Georgia and the Southeast for over thirty years, including but not limited to Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Gainesville, Macon, Marietta, Rome, Roswell, Savannah, Smyrna, Valdosta, Warner Robins and all smaller cities and rural areas in the state. No matter where you are located our attorneys are just a phone call away, and we will even come to you.

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Category: Auto Accidents

Please Note:
Many of our blog articles discuss the law. All information provided about the law is very general in nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Every situation is different, and should be analyzed by a lawyer who can provide individualized advice based on the facts involved in your unique situation, and a consideration of all of the nuances of the statutes and case law that apply at the time.