Understanding the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense

Sudden Medical Emergency Defense

Typically with a car accident, there is a straightforward understanding of what happened. Two common examples are a driver deciding to speed through a red light or change lanes without checking their blind spot first. This clear explanation makes determining fault fairly easy.

There are times, though, when finding who is liable for the damages caused by a car accident is far more complex. Take medical emergencies, for example. Some states recognize that if you experience a sudden medical emergency that causes a car accident, they should not hold you responsible for circumstances beyond your control.

On the other hand, some states find that drivers claiming this defense should still be held responsible. That is even if they could not have foreseen a potential emergency medical situation. To better understand if this defense may apply to you, read our guide below on the sudden medical emergency defense.

What Are Examples of Sudden Medical Emergency Defense? 

The onset of a sudden medical emergency is, obviously, difficult to predict and even more difficult to prove. In most cases, for this defense to be an option for you, you will need to prove you were unconscious at the time of the car accident. This means there is a limited number of medical circumstances that could fall under this defense. However, there are still plenty of examples of possible health issues:

  • Fainting 
  • Mental delusions or hallucinations 
  • Heart attack 
  • Reactions to new medications 
  • Seizure 
  • Stroke 
  • Sudden and severe drop in blood pressure 

That being said, some of these examples may not work everywhere in the United States. In California, for instance, a person experiencing a sudden mental illness could still be held at fault for an accident he or she initiated. Maryland, on the other hand, allows drivers to use sudden mental incapacitation as a defense against liability.

This defense could provide an easy escape from responsibility. Therefore, the states that allow it usually maintain high standards to prove a sudden medical emergency deserves consideration. To best understand your specific circumstances, you should discuss the situation with a local lawyer or law group with experience in litigating liability.

How Do You Prove the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense? 

Just as each state decides on its own whether to allow the sudden medical emergency defense, each state that allows it has its own standards that must be met. Generally speaking, though, for you to claim the sudden medical emergency defense standard, you must prove three things:

1. You lost consciousness suddenly before the accident occurred.

The word “suddenly” carries a lot of weight in the above sentence. The sudden nature of the event is a critical component of claiming this defense. It means you had no opportunity to fix the situation or prevent it from happening.

If you experience a medical emergency while driving, you are expected to pull over to the side of the road to avoid putting yourself or others in danger. So, if you begin to experience the symptoms of a medical emergency and can safely remove yourself and your car from the road, you are not experiencing a sudden emergency and cannot use this defense.

2. Your loss of consciousness made you lose control of their vehicle.

The order of events is important to this defense. If you lost consciousness after you lost control of your vehicle, you may still be held liable for the accident. This follows the same logic as the above criterion. If you knew you were going to experience a loss of consciousness, you should pull over to keep people out of danger.

3. Your loss of consciousness could not have been predicted.

The issue of foreseeability is a complicated one. If you have no previous history with the medical condition that caused the emergency, it is difficult for you to predict that it may occur. For example, if you’ve never had heart issues but experience an unexpected heart attack while driving, you likely meet this criterion.

However, say you have a history of heart issues and your doctor instructed you not to drive. You should be able to foresee experiencing a heart attack while driving. Or, you’re diabetic and forget to eat all day. A loss of consciousness caused by low blood sugar could mean you are still at fault.

Of course, as each state handles this defense differently, there may be additional burdens of proof. In Hawaii, you’ll need to prove you’ve never seen a doctor or under medical care for the condition that caused the incapacity. If the accident occurred in Montana, you can only use this defense against the violation of a traffic statute.

On the other hand, West Virginia has slightly easier gating criteria to claim the sudden medical emergency defense, as those who experience unconsciousness due to diagnosed hypertension can still cite the Sudden Emergency Doctrine, their version of this defense. In Pennsylvania, too, an unexpected coughing fit fell within the state’s Sudden Medical Emergency Doctrine.

Why Should You Consider a Lawyer If You’re Claiming the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense? 

Whether the sudden medical emergency defense is valid varies state by state. The criteria that to meet also changes from one state to another. Making sure you understand the laws in your area is essential for your defense, and you need legal help to determine what options are available to you. Whenever you find yourself in a position where you’re liable for damages, you should speak to an attorney to explore the various legal avenues available to protect you.

Work With an Experienced Local Lawyer 

If you experienced a car accident that stems from your sudden medical emergency, you need immediate legal help. A local lawyer or law group should work to understand your specific situation and strategize a defense that helps protect you. Even if you’re liable, a lawyer may help limit the amount.

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