Are Drivers with Sudden Medical Emergencies Responsible for Crashes?


Every day, millions of dollars' worth of property damage are incurred due to spontaneous and outrageous car accidents. Cars speeding by a series of lawns and plowing into the dining room wall are occurrences that can happen at any time. While many of these accidents happen because a driver is under the influence, they also unfortunately occur when a driver has a sudden medical emergency.

Things like heart attacks, strokes, seizures, cramps, diabetic episodes and syncope can all result in a serious car accident if the driver experiences one of these conditions behind the wheel. Such conditions are often blamed for collisions against homes, buildings, stationary cars, trees, and other objects alongside the roadway. Such accidents are unpredictable and can have devastating consequences.

While the driver is technically at fault in these circumstances for causing the harm, a medical emergency cannot be anticipated. This makes it difficult to attribute negligence and therefore to receive compensation for damages to your property or for your injury.

Sudden Medical Emergency Defense

Unlike drinking and driving, a sudden medical emergency like syncope cannot be prevented. Syncope is a sudden, short fainting spell that has a quick onset and recovery. This sometimes occurs from low blood pressure, causing a decrease in blood flow to the brain. It's difficult for doctors to even diagnose if a patient has syncope, so it can be difficult to know who is likely to have a fainting spell behind the wheel.

Even people with epilepsy can be difficult to prove negligent as there is a window of time between seizures where they should be OK to drive, yet the optimal period is unknown by medical professionals. Most states do protect those who lose control behind the wheel due to an emergency with the sudden medical emergency defense or the act of God defense. These defenses define inevitable accidents that could never have been anticipated nor stopped.

Who bears the burden of proof?

When a driver claims the sudden medical emergency defense, he or she carries the burden of proof. Three things must be demonstrated to prove the accident was caused by an emergency situation the driver could not control:

  1. The suddenness of the loss of consciousness
  2. That loss of consciousness was responsible for the loss of control behind the wheel
  3. The loss of consciousness was caused by an "unforeseeable medical emergency"

The suddenness of the emergency is crucial. If the driver experienced symptoms before the accident occurred, he or she should have pulled over until calling an ambulance or feeling well again. That is the prudent thing to do and what a reasonable person would do under the circumstances. If symptoms are ignored, the emergency can no longer be considered "sudden."

Those with a past medical history of such accidents occurring due to established health conditions will struggle to use the sudden medical emergency defense. If a driver is warned by a physician against driving and drives anyway, that is considered negligence.

Who pays for sudden medical emergency accidents?

In New Jersey, if you have no-fault auto insurance, you file a claim with your own insurance company to receive compensation for your injuries or property damage. If you have traditional insurance, it may be possible to sue the other driver. Talk to an experienced personal injury attorney like James Vasquez, PC to understand your legal options following this scenario