If you suffer car accident injuries in a crash caused by another driver’s sudden health emergency – such as a seizure or heart attack – the claim can be impeded by a defense known as the “sudden emergency doctrine.”
As our Cape Coral car accident injuries lawyers can explain, the law expects drivers to conduct themselves with a certain degree of reasonable care. Failure to do so is negligence.
But the law also recognizes that emergencies can arise. The sudden emergency doctrine is a defense that can be raised for people who are confronted with some unexpected danger. If established, it can mean the defendant isn’t held to the same standard of care as they might otherwise be in the event that they suffer from a heart attack or seizure while driving so long as this “sudden emergency” was not reasonably foreseeable.
Sudden Emergency Doctrine Defense Examples
The sudden emergency doctrine can be raised when an emergency actually existed (or appeared to), the defendant did not create/contribute to that emergency, and a reasonable person under similar circumstances would have done the same.
Some examples could include:
- A driver is speeding because his passenger is suffering a medical emergency and they must hurry to transport them to the nearest hospital;
- A driver suffers a medical emergency, such as a stroke, heart attack or seizure while driving;
- A driver is attacked by a dangerous insect or animal while operating the vehicle (as we saw in the 2015 Nevada Supreme Court case of Drake v. Frazier, wherein a semi-truck driver successfully argued the sudden emergency doctrine because a bee flew in his eye, causing him to run a stoplight and rear-end another motorist).
Any of these scenarios *could* give rise to the sudden emergency doctrine that might prevent financial recovery from the persons who were injured. But the success of this argument depends heavily on the circumstances of the case – and the skill of your car accident lawyer.
Car Accident Lawyer Successfully Argues Against Sudden Emergency in Seizure Crash Case
Not all emergencies behind the wheel are automatically considered “sudden” or the resulting accidents unavoidable. Take the recent case of Ghezavat v. Harris in a California appellate court.
Here, the driver of the car, 26, suffered a grand mal seizure while driving and behind the wheel, crashing into another car, killing two people. The survivors of those killed sued not only the driver but the co-signer of the vehicle, his father, who also routinely paid for the auto insurance.
Discovery gathered in preparation for trial revealed both the driver and his father/vehicle co-signer were aware the driver suffered a seizure disorder at least several months prior to the crash, as he’d suffered a grand mal seizure on the subway. The father testified that he had considered removing his name from the pickup truck’s registration to avoid liability for his son’s continued use of the truck, but ultimately did not do so.
Plaintiffs argued negligent entrustment of the vehicle by the father to the son – and jurors agreed. In awarding nearly $400,000 to the survivors, jurors determined the father knew or should have known the son was unfit to drive and failed to intervene to stop him.
The father appealed, but the appellate court affirmed ruling that both the driver and the co signer were liable for the accident as this did not meet the definition of a sudden emergency given the fact that they both should have been aware of the son’s likelihood of suffering a seizure while driving.
In order for a case like this to qualify under the “sudden emergency doctrine,” a defendant would have needed to show they did not know or had no reason to know the driver suffered a seizure disorder. While the case cited above is a California case, the outcome of a similar set of facts in our state would likely be similar (ie. a driver suffering a seizure while driving in Florida)if argued skillfully by experienced attorneys.
A positive outcome in a case like this would largely depend on how diligent your car accident injury attorney is in conducting the discovery process as they would need to obtain the medical records of the individual who suffered the medical condition while driving; this can be difficult as Florida courts have previously recognized constitutional protections of an individual’s medical records. Once in possession of the at-fault driver’s medical records, it is much easier to prove that they either knew or should have known, that they were likely to suffer seizure or heart attack while driving; the key issue here is proving the legal concept of foreseeability.
If you suffer car accident injuries, stemming from an individual having a stroke, heart attack, or other sudden emergencies, working with an experienced injury lawyer will improve your odds of a successful verdict or settlement.
If you are injured in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples, or the greater South Florida area, contact our injury attorneys at Garvin Injury Law at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation, as we have had many years of experience overcoming this defense on behalf of our clients.
Ghezavat v. Harris, Sept. 27, 2019, California Court of Appeals, First Appellate District, Division Five