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Collisions Caused by Medical Issues

February 2, 2016 | Category: Uninsured Motorist Claims | Share

Drivers need to be in control of their vehicle at all times and if they are negligent or careless, they can be held responsible when their behavior causes an accident to occur.  In most cases, drivers make conscious choices that lead to crashes -- like speeding or running a red light. If a driver makes an error or is more careless than a reasonable motorist would be, he can be held responsible for a collision when victims pursue a claim with the help of a Ft. Myers personal injury lawyer like Randall Spivey.

Sometimes, however, a driver loses control of a car not because he goes too fast, is distracted, or otherwise chooses a dangerous action. Such incidents can also happen when a driver has a medical issue behind the wheel.  Seizures are a classic example of the type of medical problem that can cause a driver to lose control of his car, which is why motorists who have seizure disorders generally need to have a doctor's note and a seizure-free period before they are allowed to drive.   However, there are many other medical conditions that could cause a driver to lose control as well, like a sudden heart attack or stroke.

If a driver has a medical problem and his loss of control over the vehicle causes a collision, should the driver be held responsible for any resulting accidents? This is a complicated question and one that has to be answered based on the specific facts of the case.

Should a Driver Be Held Accountable for a Crash Caused by a Medical Issue?

The Associated Press recently reported on one incident in which a driver with a seizure disorder had an episode while driving, killing two children.  The driver in this case settled with the family in order to avoid misdemeanor criminal charges, which is an option in the state where the accident took place.  The driver had a long history of problems behind the wheel, including in 2013 when he suffered a medical episode and had an accident. He had been required to have a doctor's note since that 2013 crash, but his license remained active, yet restricted. 

The day of the accident, he indicated that he felt a seizure was coming on; however, he chose to drive to the grocery store anyway. He had an episode, which caused the crash that killed two children.  His license was cancelled after the incident, but he sought to get it back shortly thereafter.  His mother indicated that the medical condition causing his seizures is an ongoing condition.

In this particular case, the driver was aware of his medical condition and even admitted that he knew a seizure was coming on.  When a driver makes a choice to get behind the wheel, despite being aware of a medical problem that could lead to him or her losing control of the vehicle, the driver can usually be held responsible for the resulting accident.  However, whether a motorist is responsible for a crash caused by a medical incident will depend upon the specific circumstances.

Florida law addressed the issue of accidents due to medical episodes in a 2004 case, Feagle v. Purvis.  In Feagle, the operator of an airboat died suddenly from heart disease. When he lost consciousness due to his medical condition, he hit a swimmer. The court held that sudden loss of consciousness could be a defense to liability for causing injury provided the defendant could prove:

  • A loss of consciousness or capacity occurred.
  • The loss of consciousness or capacity occurred before any conduct happened which the plaintiff is claiming was negligent.
  • The loss of consciousness occurred suddenly and unexpectedly.
  • The loss of consciousness was not foreseen, nor was it foreseeable.

Essentially, this means the defendant must have been unaware that there was a potential risk he could lose consciousness. If he was aware of this risk, and opted to drive a car or a boat despite the foreseeable danger, the motorist could be held liable for resulting losses. In these cases, the driver is unreasonably careless because he decided to drive.

The negligence which leads to liability doesn't occur at the time of the medical incident--- it occurs when he makes a choice to drive when others wouldn't and when there is a foreseeable risk this choice will harm someone if a crash happens.

Cases involving medical incidents are complicated, and victims should speak with a personal injury lawyer after the crash to get help determining if they can make a case for damages. Contact the Spivey Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.A. today.

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