Posted By Alan Sackrin on April 8, 2014
Last Update: 01/13/16
What happens When a Driver Has a Medical Emergency and Causes a Car Accident?
There are times when a driver who causes a crash won’t have to pay damages. That’s right: even if there isn’t an argument as to what happened – the driver simply won’t be held responsible.
Why? When? Florida law will protects a driver who suffers a medical emergency that causes a car crash from being held liable for damages. In these cases, even though the driver admittedly caused the crash, and even where people died or were seriously hurt in the accident, that driver isn’t going to be obligated to pay compensation or damages to any victim.
What is a Medical Emergency?
Any kind of sudden physical event that impacts the ability of a driver to operate a motor vehicle can be considered a “medical emergency” — even if the emergency causes a car crash which injures people riding in the driver’s car as well as anyone who is hurt in other cars involved the accident.
Medical emergencies are surprises. They can be a heart attack, an aneurysm, a stroke, a sudden seizure, even a diabetic reaction. It is simply a physical crisis where the driver becomes incapacitated or unconscious and loses control — and (key here) where the driver had no warning or expectation in advance that something was about to happen.
Driver’s Insurance Company Won’t Pay Claims Where Medical Emergency Caused a Crash
From a plaintiff injury lawyer’s perspective, a driver with a medical emergency is a complicated and serious situation. The usual resource for covering medical expenses, long-term care needs, lost wages, pain and suffering and more for the innocent victim doesn’t exist in driver medical emergency cases.
That’s because the insurance policy for that driver will issue a denial of payment — they will state that they are not required to pay a bodily injury liability or property damage claim in a medical emergency situation. In that situation, an experienced injury lawyer will know to investigate and confirm whether or not that insurance company denial is appropriate under Florida law and if the driver is within the Florida medical emergency defense.
The Florida injury lawyer will look for evidence to refute the driver’s claim and get the driver’s insurance coverage to apply to the claim.
The plaintiff’s lawyer will investigate the accident for two things:
- (What Happened in The Car?) Did the driver who caused the crash have a loss of consciousness or sudden physical event that caused them to lose control of their vehicle?
- (Was It Really a Surprise?) Did the driver have no expectation or warning in advance that something like this could happen? For instance, a person who suffers epilepsy which causes periodic seizures cannot use the medical emergency defense if they get behind the wheel and then have a seizure — because they have an awareness that this might happen. However, a driver that suffers a heart attack may have had no advance notice that he was about to have a cardiac problem and this driver may have a valid medical emergency bar to damages.
Medical Emergency is Driver’s Defense to Liability Under Florida Law
Legally, the burden is upon the driver to prove up this defense. As explained in the recent case of Marcum v. Hayward (where the driver had a seizure and the medical emergency defense applied), the driver has to give evidence that:
1. The defendant suffered a loss of consciousness or capacity. See, e.g., Bridges v. Speer, 79 So. 2d 679, 681 (Fla. 1955); Wilson v. The Krystal Co., 844 So. 2d 827[, 828] (Fla. 5th DCA 2003).
2. The loss of consciousness or capacity occurred before the defendant’s purportedly negligent conduct. See Malcolm v. Patrick, 147 So. 2d 188, 193 (Fla. 2d DCA 1962).
3. The loss of consciousness was sudden. See, e.g., Baker v. Hausman, 68 So. 2d 572, 573 (Fla. 1953); Malcolm, 147 So. 2d at 193].
4. The loss of consciousness or capacity was neither foreseen, nor foreseeable. See, e.g., Baker, 68 So. 2d at 573; Wilson, 844 So. 2d at 828; Wingate v. United Servs. Auto. Ass’n., 480 So. 2d 665, 666 (Fla. 5th DCA 1985); Malcolm, 147 So. 2d at 193.
What Should You Do Now?
A good piece of advice if you have been harmed in an accident, is to at least speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer before you file a claim to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person) to answer your questions.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.