Many car accidents have a clear-cut cause—someone was not paying attention, or rear-ended another driver, or was driving while intoxicated. In these cases, it can be easy to determine who is to blame. However, when a driver has a medical emergency behind the wheel, like a heart attack or a stroke, is the driver to blame? The answer depends on the type of medical issue.
If a medical event is completely unpredictable, like a seizure or a stroke, it falls under the sudden emergency doctrine, which is a defense to negligence. If the person driving had a heart attack, and caused an accident which injured someone, the person who was driving would have a defense to a lawsuit over the accident by using this doctrine.
In order to apply, the sudden emergency doctrine requires that the driver:
- Had a sudden or unexpected emergency situation where that person was in actual or apparent danger,
- Did not cause the emergency themselves, and
- Acted as a reasonably careful person would have in the same situation.
If all three requirements are met, the driver will be able to use the sudden emergency doctrine as a defense.
Problems with this defense occur when a medical emergency is not all that sudden or unexpected. For example, a person who knows that they have a seizure disorder cannot use this defense if that person gets behind the wheel anyway and has a seizure while driving. In fact, that person may be criminally liable for putting other people in danger.
In the same way, a person who knows that they are having a heart attack cannot continue driving and hope it goes away. A reasonable person in that situation would likely pull off the road and call for help.
Finally, while many people would not purposely injure themselves and cause an accident, it is possible that the defense would not be available to people who had a medical emergency because of something like a drug overdose or an unexpected reaction to medication. In these cases, a jury would likely find that the person should not have driven until the effects of the medication were known.
At the Trial Law Offices of Bradley I. Kramer, M.D., Esq., our attorneys help people injured by someone else’s negligence. If you were injured in a car accident, or by medical malpractice, our experienced staff of legal and medical professionals can evaluate your case and help you understand your rights. If you would like to speak with a knowledgeable Los Angeles injury attorney, contact Bradley I. Kramer today by calling (310) 289-2600 or use our online case evaluation form to have your claim reviewed for free.