What Happens When a Medical Condition Causes an Accident

Author: Auger Law | December 17th, 2020

Determining fault in a car accident can be one of the biggest points of contention during a personal injury case. When a crash happens and a driver is drunk, on drugs, breaking major traffic laws by speeding or running stoplights, or otherwise obviously and egregiously neglecting their duty to drive safely, it’s likely a court will determine that they were at fault without needing to spend a lot of time deliberating. This doesn’t mean that these cases can’t be complicated, as the Carolinas’ rules on contributory negligence allow the fault to be assigned in a proportional manner between all responsible parties.

man having a heart attack

When an accident occurs due to a driver suffering a medical condition, like a stroke, heart attack, seizure, or another medical emergency, determining fault quickly becomes far more complex. The Sudden Emergency Doctrine goes into effect if a defendant was suffering from an immediate and unexpected medical emergency leading up to the accident. It can be far more difficult to recover damages from another driver if this is the case, though an experienced car accident lawyer can help improve your chances.

If you’ve recently been in a car accident in the Carolinas and the other driver is claiming they suffered a medical emergency that caused the accident, Auger & Auger can help you recover the maximum amount possible. These cases are not easy, and going it alone may significantly reduce the likelihood that you’re able to recover damages from the other party or their insurance. If you’ve got growing medical bills and uncertainty about your current and future ability to continue working, let us help you work through this difficult time. Schedule a free consultation with us by calling (855) 971-1114 and we can help you get you on the path to recovery today.

Negligence in a Car Accident Involving a Medical Emergency

In cases where a driver is claiming a medical emergency defense, a court will likely listen to expert testimony from medical specialists to determine several factors about the condition the driver was suffering from. If the defendant was unaware of their condition at the time of the emergency, it will be particularly difficult to prove that they were negligent, and thus recovering damages will be unlikely. For example, if the driver had no past heart conditions and suffered a heart attack at the wheel leading to a car accident, expert testimony will probably reveal this and the “unexpected” portion of the Sudden Emergency Doctrine will easily be fulfilled.

As a counter-example, if the driver suffers from diabetes and has been aware of and treating their condition for a long time, they would be responsible for keeping up with treatment and observing their symptoms and state of mind when deciding to drive. In this case, if they went into mild diabetic shock and claim it led to an accident, they may be found negligent if they failed to take their treatment and blood sugar levels into account before getting behind the wheel of a car. The severity of the medical emergency, in this case, may also come under criticism in a court, based on the testimony of medical experts.

How the “Sudden Emergency” Defense Works in North Carolina and South Carolina

The ability for someone to argue that they had a “sudden medical emergency” will vary depending on the state where the injury claim is taking place.

In North Carolina, drivers have to be able to say they have “sudden incapacitation” because they either lost consciousness or were in extreme pain at the time of the collision (see: Wallace v. Johnson, 182 S.E.2d 193 — N.C. 1971). 

In South Carolina, historical case law has interpreted that an individual must be suddenly rendered unconscious or in “Imminent Peril” because of an unforeseeable medical condition to be granted a partial or total exemption from being found negligent (see: Boyleston v. Baxley, 133 S.E.2d 796 — S.C. 1963). Furthermore, the South Carolina courts have ruled that an individual who was incapacitated due to a known condition cannot use the medical emergency as a way to avoid liability (see: Howle v. PYA/ Monarch, Inc., 344 S.E.2d 157 — S.C. Ct.

App. 1986).

Seek a Skilled Carolina Car Accident Attorney for Your Complex Crash Injury Case

In any car accident case where a medical emergency is being used to avoid admitting fault, the proceedings are likely to get more complicated and take longer. In these instances, it’s a good idea to have a seasoned car accident attorney in the Carolinas who has experience dealing with medical emergency defenses at your side. Reach out to Auger & Auger at (855) 971-1114 and we can go over the details of your case as soon as possible during a free, no-obligation case review.

Posted In: Car Accidents