After getting rear-ended at an intersection, you might be surprised to hear that the driver who struck you suffered a sudden medical emergency, like a heart attack or stroke. Many insurance companies use this defense to avoid paying compensation when their insured smashes into someone.
Georgia does recognize the “sudden emergency doctrine,” but we have seen some insurers claim this defense when the facts do not support it. Please call Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys. We will do everything in our power to get you the compensation you deserve following a collision. Below, our Atlanta car accident lawyer takes a closer look at the doctrine of sudden emergencies.
What is the Sudden Emergency Doctrine?
In Georgia, a motorist who fails to use reasonable care is liable for any accident they cause. In most cases, this will be someone who hits your car while driving.
However, the sudden emergency doctrine recognizes that sometimes a driver is not in control of their car due to an unexpected emergency. For that reason, it would be unfair to hold them responsible for hitting you.
A defendant will need to prove certain things to make out this defense:
- They faced a sudden and unexpected emergency. The emergency must come out of the blue.
- They did not cause the emergency or participate in creating it. A driver who is responsible for creating the emergency can’t use this defense.
- They acted reasonably throughout the emergency. Some emergencies are sudden, but the driver can still safely avoid a crash. They can’t claim this defense if they could have avoided a collision but failed to.
The person raising this defense must prove all three elements. If they don’t, then they can’t use it.
Do Medical Emergencies Qualify?
Yes. Some of the most common medical emergencies include things like:
- Heart attack
- Passing out
- Chest pain
- Sudden blurred vision
The key to medical emergencies is whether the driver was aware of their medical condition. For example, a driver might have narcolepsy which causes them to fall asleep for short bursts, even in the middle of the day. A driver with narcolepsy can’t just get behind the wheel, fall asleep, and then blame their medical condition when they crash into a car. The driver is still negligent. A careful driver would know that their medical condition could cause them to lose control of the vehicle, so the emergency is not “unexpected.”
A driver also needs to act reasonably despite a sudden medical emergency. For example, a driver might feel some mild dizziness coming on, but they can still slow down and pull over to the side of the road safely. If they choose to continue to go 60 miles per hour, they can’t claim the defense when they crash into someone. So long as they retain some control of the vehicle, they need to act carefully.
Sudden Medical Emergencies & Your Car Accident
At Stewart Miller Trial Attorneys, we represent accident victims injured in car wrecks. If a driver hit you, we can make a claim on their liability insurance policy. We will argue the driver was negligent and at fault for the crash.
Typically, the defendant’s insurance company will raise a sudden medical emergency as a defense. Put simply, they claim their driver isn’t at fault because of the medical emergency which caused them to lose control. They will refuse to pay any compensation.
What happens then? Well, we don’t simply accept the defendant’s claim that he or she suffered a medical emergency. We can request the driver’s medical records to see if their condition was pre-existing. For example, the driver might have been diagnosed with epilepsy two years ago. That means they are on notice of their medical condition. It’s not a surprise if they have an epileptic fit behind the wheel.
We will also check whether the driver has been taking medication. Not all medical conditions prevent someone from driving, provided they take medication as prescribed. Some drivers will admit that they have not been taking their meds. That means the sudden medical emergency isn’t “unexpected” and they usually can’t raise the defense.
Going to Trial
Most car accident claims can settle out of court. But we sometimes end up in trial for situations like this—the other side insists that they are not at fault because of a sudden emergency. The only thing to do is to take this case to a jury, who will decide whether there was a sudden emergency and if the defendant acted reasonably throughout.
Your Atlanta car accident lawyer will request medical records from the driver who struck you and carefully go through them. We can find out if the medical condition was pre-existing or not. We’ll also know if the driver is treating their condition properly.
We might also talk to emergency medical technicians. Some drivers claim to have a “heart attack” while driving, but in the ambulance, they seem fine. That is someone faking an injury to avoid liability for a crash.
Other Sudden Emergencies
Not all emergencies are medical in nature. For example, a motorist could be driving down the road when a pedestrian suddenly steps in front of them. The driver naturally hits the brakes to avoid a crash. However, by stopping suddenly, a car behind rear-ends them. Was the driver at fault for the wreck because they hit the brakes? Probably not—they can claim a sudden emergency.
Non-medical emergencies can include:
- Falling trees
- An animal jumping into the road
- A car swerving into your lane
Remember, though—a driver can’t create an emergency themselves. If they make an illegal U-turn, it’s not an “unexpected” emergency that a car is coming straight at them. They created this problem themselves!
Have a Question? Call Our Atlanta Car Accident Lawyer
Our lawyers have handled countless car accident claims, and we have heard all the excuses offered by negligent drivers—including fake medical “emergencies.” Contact our firm if you need legal help negotiating a settlement. You can reach us at (404) 529-3476 or submit information online.