In most cases, when someone is involved in a car accident, the driver of the vehicle is to blame. However, this isn’t always the case. There are times when a driver may suffer from a medical condition that renders them unable to control or stop their vehicle before an accident occurs.
What is the Sudden Emergency Doctrine?
In many states across the country, there is something called the “sudden emergency doctrine,” which states that drivers who suffer from some sort of emergency, like a medical condition, and cause an accident are not necessarily liable for it since they had no warning or time to react or prevent it from happening. Examples of sudden emergencies may include:
- Weather - Sudden, strong wind and rain are not uncommon in Florida. One minute, the sun could be shining bright, while the next sees a torrential downpour.
- Road Obstacles - Airborne objects like shredded tires, rocks or even animals darting across the pavement can all create emergency situations where the driver has milliseconds to react.
- Medical Condition - Certain ailments and illnesses can cause individuals to lose consciousness, sometimes even behind the wheel.
Common Examples of Unconsciousness Behind the Wheel
Going unconscious behind the wheel of a car is a serious safety issue that can have devastating consequences. The alarming fact is that it can happen to anyone at any time. Common examples include:
- Heart Attack - A heart attack (lack of blood flow to the heart) can cause a person to lose consciousness suddenly and unexpectedly, making it impossible to pull over or stop the vehicle.
- Stroke - Similarly to a heart attack, a stroke (lack of blood to the brain) can leave victims unconscious.
- Narcolepsy - A chronic sleep disorder that can leave individuals overwhelmingly drowsy and can even cause sudden moments of sleep.
- Dehydration - A lack of water in the body leads to a decreased blood volume. This, in turn, results in a lack of blood flow to the brain.
However, having a medical emergency happen to you while driving does not mean you are off the hook from being liable in an accident.
How to Prove a Medical Emergency
In order to use the sudden emergency doctrine as a defense in accidents involving a medical emergency, an individual will be tasked with proving three elements.
- Before the accident occurred, there was a sudden loss of consciousness.
- This loss of consciousness caused the accident.
- The loss of consciousness could not be foreseen.
In other words, a driver who lost consciousness behind the wheel and caused an accident may be able to avoid liability if there was no way of knowing that there was a possibility that they’d lose consciousness.
When the Doctrine Will Not Apply
The defense of the sudden emergency doctrine will not apply to those who could have reasonably known that a loss of consciousness was possible behind the wheel. For example, if a driver has a record of medical conditions like seizures, narcolepsy, or diabetes that can cause an individual to become unconscious, then it is reasonable for them to know that this could happen again while driving.
Ultimately, the sudden emergency doctrine is something that states can use as a tool for determining liability in car accidents. It is important to understand this defense in the event that a medical emergency causes an accident. In any case, it is always wise to consult a knowledgeable car accident attorney to better understand your legal rights and options.
How a Tallahassee, FL Car Accident Can Help After an Accident
If you or someone you love has been involved in an accident, it is important to contact an experienced attorney who specializes in car accidents and personal injury law. Shapiro Law Firm, P.A. will be able to evaluate your case and provide legal guidance to ensure that you are properly compensated for any medical expenses, lost wages, or other damages associated with the accident. Additionally, we will be able to help negotiate with insurance companies on your behalf and make sure that any settlement is fair and just.
If you were involved in a car accident, call us today at (850) 629-7226 or fill out our form online.