Last updated on March 7, 2019 by Accident Monitoring Team
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The medical emergency defense is a common one in car accident claims, especially in instances where such an emergency led an accident to occur. In fact, if you find yourself in a predicament where you’re technically at fault for a bad accident but you were involved in a medical emergency, there are a number of instances where you may not be held at fault for any damages that occurred.
Unfortunately, as with all aspects of the law, there are no easy answers as to when using a medical emergency defense is valid and when it is not. That’s why it’s important to keep the following information in mind if you are involved in an accident that might have arisen from a medical emergency.
Understanding the Medical Emergency Defense
The medical emergency defense is most commonly used in states and jurisdictions where “at-fault” car accident claims can be made. In such places, it’s customary for you to be held financially responsible for any injuries or property damage caused by the accident in the event that the accident was your fault.
However, in the interest of fairness and justice, exceptions are made for special cases. One of these cases is if a sudden and unexpected medical emergency while driving led to the accident occurring. This medical emergency defense is called an “affirmative defense” in that you’re admitting that yes, you caused the accident, but it was due to circumstances beyond your control. Relying on the medical emergency defense and prevailing can help you avoid being held financially responsible for the accident.
Satisfying the Requirements of the Defense
While the law will differ from one state to another — and that includes allowing the use of a medical emergency defense altogether — in most cases, there are a number of requirements that you’ll need to satisfy before you can use this type of defense effectively. In fact, you will likely need to prove the following before you’ll be permitted to rely on a medical emergency defense:
- You experienced a medical emergency while driving
- Such a medical emergency was impossible to predict
- This medical emergency caused you to lose control of your vehicle
- You lost control just before the accident happened
- It’s this loss of control that led to the accident happening
Types of Medical Events that Qualify as an Unpredictable Emergency
One of the most important aspects of being able to use a medical emergency defense is the nature of the medical event that led to the accident. Such an event needs to be deemed “unpredictable”; in other words, you must not have had any knowledge that you might be suddenly afflicted by the condition while behind the wheel.
Unexpected and unpredictable medical emergencies come in many forms. While they may be from a multitude of sources, they also need to preclude you from being able to control your vehicle, either from loss of consciousness or otherwise rendering you unable to physically operate your car. A few examples of conditions that have been classified as valid medical emergencies include the following:
- A heart attack
- A stroke
- An epileptic attack or related seizure
- A fainting spell
- A sudden drop in blood pressure
- Sudden hypoglycemia or another diabetes-related attack
- A sudden psychological attack such as hallucination or delusion
- An adverse reaction to medication
This is, of course, an incomplete list. Each medical condition needs to be scrutinized carefully in order to determine whether it satisfies the requirements for falling under the emergency medical defense. In fact, there are a number of ways that you can be barred from using the defense, even if you do experience one of these medical events or a similar one.
Exceptions to Using a Medical Emergency Defense
Just because you suffer a medically-related lack of control while behind the wheel doesn’t mean that you can’t still be held responsible for the accident. In fact, there are a number of exceptions to the medical emergency defense.
One of the most common reasons you may be barred from using the defense is if there is any chance that the event wasn’t unforeseeable. In fact, if you had previous knowledge of your medical condition or if your doctor had given you explicit instructions not to get behind the wheel in your condition, you could easily still be held accountable.
Additionally, if you were responsible for the onset of the event, such as not eating or drinking enough to maintain adequate blood sugar or blood pressure, you could also be considered responsible for the accident. You’ll likely be held at fault in cases of ignoring warnings to not operate heavy machinery while on a certain medication as well. In fact, any instances of you having prior knowledge of a possible condition, or negligently ignoring proper treatment for a condition, can land you in some very hot water.
Who Pays for What in a Successful Medical Emergency Defense
Whether it’s you using the medical emergency defense or it’s the other driver, if such a defense is used successfully, any damages usually become the responsibility of the respective parties involved. This means that you’ll only be responsible for taking care of your own damages and not those of anyone else.
In this case, the insurance companies of those involved will bear the brunt. Damage to your vehicle will be paid by your own car insurance company, and any personal injury protection on your policy will be used to pay any outstanding medical bills you may have. This can be both a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how much coverage your policy provides for you.
What to Do If The Other Driver Is Making a Medical Emergency Defense Claim
If you’ve been in an accident through no fault of your own, but the other driver is claiming that the accident occurred due to a medical emergency on their part, don’t lose hope: you’re not necessarily out of options. In fact, there are things that you can do to protect your rights in such a situation.
Your first steps are always to seek legal advice from an experienced attorney. With the help of a qualified lawyer that has dealt with medical emergency defense claims in the past, you can contact your insurance company to discuss your options. You can also aim to uncover whether the other driver can reliably use such a defense or if their condition doesn’t qualify under your state’s medical emergency defense requirements.