What is the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense?
A driver may be relieved of liability in a car accident in some situations in which a medical condition is the cause. The rationale behind the sudden medical emergency defense is that there is no negligence involved and the matter was beyond the motorists control, so he or she should not be required to pay compensation to an injured victim. Generally, a person has the burden of proof in claiming this defense, which includes three elements:
- The Driver Experienced a Sudden Loss of Consciousness: The key time frame for the defense is the moments before the accident occurred, though there is no specific number of minutes. Still, the suddenness is a critical factor. The loss of consciousness must have occurred so abruptly and unexpectedly that the driver had no control over the vehicle, and could not react to mitigate the situation. In addition, this defense requires the person to prove that he or she had no indication of any symptoms before experienced sudden unconsciousness. When the driver notices a medical issue and ignores it, there is no suddenness.
- The Loss of Consciousness Led to Loss of Control Over the Vehicle: For this element, a driver must establish more than simple impairment or lack of control. There must be complete unconsciousness with complete loss of the ability to operate the vehicle.
- Unconsciousness and Subsequent Loss of Control Are Due to Medical Emergency: This factor of the sudden medical emergency defense often involves the use of the driver’s medical records. Typically, the medical condition requires immediate treatment, so healthcare practitioners or emergency medical technicians would include a diagnosis of why the person lost consciousness.
Examples of Sudden Medical Emergencies
Because complete unconsciousness is an essential element of the defense, there are limits to what constitutes a medical emergency. Examples include:
- Myocardial infarction, commonly termed heart attack;
- A sudden drop in blood pressure, often due to a diabetic condition;
- Stroke, resulting from lack of blood flow to the brain;
- Mental delusions; or,
- A reaction to medication.
Maryland Law on Sudden Medical Emergency in Car Accident Cases
Maryland does recognize the defense of sudden medical emergency in auto collision cases, though the concept is derived from case law instead of a statute. In the 1977 case of Moore v. Presnell, the court held that a driver is not liable for injuries in a car accident if her or she is suddenly and unforeseeably incapacitated, either physically or mentally.
The court’s opinion does contain an exception, however. When a motorist has knowledge of a medical condition that may cause unconsciousness, liability may still attach. This result is linked to the “unforeseeable” element: A medical emergency is not truly unexpected if the person knows he or she has an illness that may cause unconsciousness. For instance, if a driver has a history of heart attack, fainting, or diabetes, the sudden medical emergency defense may not apply.
Discuss Your Legal Options with a Maryland Personal Injury Attorney
If you are involved in a car accident in which the other driver alleges a medical emergency, it is critical to retain the services of an experienced lawyer. You can expect that person’s insurance company to aggressively defend its own interests and deny your claim based upon the sudden medical emergency defense. These companies have large, well-staffed legal departments and even larger budgets, so you may be at a disadvantage unless you have a skilled personal injury attorney to fight for your rights. A lawyer can assist you in recovering compensation for such losses as:
- Medical bills for your treatment, rehabilitation, and ongoing care;
- Lost wages, if the accident caused you to be out of work for some time;
- Pain and suffering related to your injuries;
- Losses regarding your personal relationships with your spouse, children, and other loved ones; and,
- Other damages depending on your case.