When a Medical Condition Causes a Car Accident

Jason Reese Mar 21, 2020

Out of the hundreds of thousands of car accidents each year, there are many in which fault is relatively easy to discover and assign. Drivers who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, those who are driving recklessly, and those who fail to obey traffic laws are usually at least partially at fault. However, what does it mean when a car accident is caused by a driver impaired by a medical condition, and can victims still get compensation from the impaired driver? These cases are rarely simple.

It’s a More Common Scenario Than You Think

Some estimates place the number of accidents related to a medical condition at about 20% of all accidents. These medical conditions might include health issues like seizure disorders, diabetes, or problems with eyesight. Sometimes, these medical conditions are pre-existing and drivers are well aware of them and the potential driving risk they pose, but in other cases, they happen suddenly and without prior warning or symptoms.

The Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles can place a restriction (Restriction 8) on a driver’s license or learner’s permit to indicate a medical condition when drivers have received diagnoses that could impact their ability to drive, giving some clue that a driver may take “medication in order to control seizures or fainting spells, or that the driver has an existing medical condition which may cause him or her to appear intoxicated.” There may also be restrictions on driving at night or a ban on driving on interstates for drivers with this restriction on their license.

What Types of Medical Emergencies Cause Crashes?

Medical emergencies typically result in extreme pain, loss of consciousness, changes in mental status, dizziness, choking, or loss of muscular control. All of these symptoms can result in crashes:

  • Extreme pain—A driver who experiences significant pain may be unable to focus on the road, causing their vehicle to drift into the opposite lane of traffic.
  • Loss of consciousness—A driver who passes out or faints behind the wheel is at extreme risk of crashing, as they will be unable to control their vehicle until regaining consciousness and may be disoriented upon regaining consciousness.
  • Changes in mental status—Drivers who experience sudden cognitive changes may be unable to concentrate on driving or may take extreme risks behind the wheel.
  • Dizziness—Conditions that cause sudden dizziness can make it difficult for drivers to stay upright or even continue driving long enough to safely pull over.
  • Choking—Choking is a potentially fatal medical emergency that overrides all other concerns, which makes crashing extremely likely if it occurs while driving.
  • Loss of muscular control—Driving standard vehicles requires full control over hands, arms, feet, and legs, and when muscular control is lost, crashes are bound to happen.

How Is Fault Determined in Medical Emergency Crashes?

Several factors may play a role in determining whether a driver is at fault if he or she caused an accident as a result of a pre-existing medical condition. In determining fault, a judge is likely to look at whether or not the driver knew about the pre-existing health condition and if so, whether he or she was intentionally negligent in failing to properly monitor or care for themselves in order to protect others. Other key pieces of information might include how much the condition contributed to the crash, the severity of the medical condition and resulting injuries and property damage.

The Sudden Emergency Doctrine

An effective defense may come in the guise of the Sudden Emergency Doctrine, which in Indiana states a driver’s loss of consciousness must be shown by a preponderance of evidence to have happened without warning or in a manner which precluded the driver from taking appropriate precautions.

In short, the legal responsibility is apt to be much higher for someone who has a known seizure disorder and has failed to maintain medications necessary to avoid seizures than for a driver who has a sudden heart attack with no prior history of heart disease.

Insurance Companies Are Reluctant to Pay When There’s Any Doubt

The specifics of each medical emergency-related crash case are important, and there are few absolute answers when it comes to these types of accidents. What of diabetics who become suddenly hypoglycemic, causing impaired judgment and reaction times? Such cases have been resolved in different ways, depending on the other details present.

When doubt can be cast on someone’s liability or negligence in a crash, insurance companies are sure to take advantage of that fact. And medical emergency-related crashes are particularly prone to different interpretations, whether it’s the police officers completing their accident reports or the potentially at-fault drivers’ insurance companies deflecting blame and liability.

Our Lawyers Can Protect Your Rights to Full Compensation

Claiming that their policyholders either weren’t aware of their medical conditions or were helpless to prevent them from resulting in emergencies behind the wheel is just one common tactic that insurance companies use to reduce or deny payments to injured victims.

Have you or a loved one been injured in a car crash caused by a driver impaired by a medical condition or by the use of drugs or alcohol? If so, the vehicular accident attorneys at Wagner Reese can help you recover from your injuries and get back on the road to both physical and financial recovery. Contact us today for a free consultation.

This blog was originally published in March 2016. It was updated in March 2021.