Imagine a scenario where you’re sitting in your car, waiting to turn left at a light. Suddenly, in your peripheral vision, you notice a car approaching from behind you at speed. Before you can react, you hear the crunch, clash, and clatter of metal as the car careens into yours.
You are shaken, stiff, and sore, but you can get out of your smashed-up car. You discover the other driver is slumped to the side with his head down. Another driver stops to call 9-1-1, and the paramedics tend to the unconscious man behind the wheel.
Who is at fault?
The cause of an accident where a driver has a medical emergency
Typically, in a rear-end collision, we think that the driver who hit the vehicle in front of them caused the accident, as that driver had the last clear chance to avoid the crash and was negligent for failing to do so.
But here, the driver was unconscious. Did he become unconscious because of the accident? Or did his unconsciousness cause the accident? Did he suffer a heart attack? Or does he have a history of epilepsy? Is he diabetic? Was he under the influence of drugs or alcohol?
It’s possible that an underlying medical condition could have caused the accident, meaning that liability won’t be as clear-cut as in the typical rear-end scenario. What ultimately caused the unconsciousness and the accident are key questions in this case. The answers to these questions will determine whether you, as the injured party, will be able to recover compensation for the damage to your vehicle and any injuries that you sustained.
What state law says about medical emergencies
Most states, like Virginia and North Carolina, recognize that a sudden medical emergency renders a driver incapable of performing their duty to drive carefully and follow traffic rules, so that the driver who suffers a sudden medical emergency can’t be held responsible for the damages caused. There is a significant factual question that remains: whether the driver did, in fact, suffer a sudden medical emergency.
It could be that the driver suffered a heart attack and lost consciousness while driving. This suggests a sudden medical emergency. But what if the driver started to feel strange and disoriented yet nevertheless decided to drive home quickly instead of pulling over and stopping? Then the accident was preventable and avoidable, and the other driver would be liable for the damages he caused.
What to do when a driver who rear-ended you says it’s not their fault
As you can tell, these scenarios are complicated and very fact-specific.
If you’ve been involved in an accident where the other driver or their insurance company claims that a sudden medical emergency was the cause, this is a time when you need to talk to an experienced personal injury attorney so you can make sure your rights are protected.