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Defendant Not Entitled to Summary Judgment on Affirmative Defense of Sudden Medical Emergency, According to Ohio Court of Appeals

April 4, 2018

There are many dangers on our roadways, any one of which could result in a serious Ohio truck accident in just a few moments' time. When an injured person can prove that the defendant breached a duty of care owed to him or her and that this was the proximate cause of damages such as medical expenses, lost earnings, and pain and suffering, the injured person may be entitled to monetary compensation.

Sometimes, however, a defendant may have what is called an "affirmative defense" that effectively excuses his or her actions, at least in the eyes of the law. But the party claiming that affirmative defense has the burden of proof, so whether the  defendant is entitled to an affirmative defense is often a very hotly contested issue.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a woman who was struck by the defendant's truck after he lost control because he allegedly lost consciousness. According to the defendant, he began to feel lightheaded while traveling on the interstate. About five minutes later, he got off at the next exit and attempted to park at a restaurant. However, he apparently lost consciousness, and later his truck reversed out of the restaurant parking lot and crossed all four lanes of traffic on a nearby road, striking several vehicles (including the plaintiff's) before finally coming to rest after striking a second restaurant across the street.

In response to the plaintiff's negligence complaint, the defendant raised the affirmative defense of a sudden medical emergency. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant, agreeing with him that he had met his burden of demonstrating that he was suddenly rendered unconscious by a medical emergency. The plaintiff appealed.

Outcome in the Court of Appeals

The Court of Appeals for the 12th Appellate District of Ohio reversed the trial court's order of summary judgment in favor of the defendant and remanded the case for further proceedings. A sudden medical emergency occurs when a driver is "suddenly stricken by a period of unconsciousness which he has no reason to anticipate." The key  is whether the defendant or party claiming the sudden medical emergency had reason to anticipate that the medical emergency might arise and therefore had reason to know that they shouldn't have been behind the wheel. Examples include a diabetic who hasn't taken her medication and knows that she is prone to blackouts. Another example may be a cardiac patient who has been told by his doctor that he may not drive.

Here, the defendant had suffered a concussion after being assaulted by three men about a week before the accident; he was rendered unconscious as a result of the attack. Although his medical treatment was limited to having been treated and released by emergency medical technicians, as a former boxer, the defendant recognized that he had suffered a concussion and spent the next week resting at home. It was on his first trip out of the house that the accident occurred. Additionally, the defendant admitted that he had lost consciousness while driving another time, some six or seven years prior. In short, there was a serious issue of whether he should gotten behind the wheel.

Reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff (as is required in an appeal from a motion for summary judgment granted to the opposing party), the court concluded that genuine issues of fact remained as to whether a reasonably prudent person in the defendant's circumstances would have anticipated that the accident would occur and therefore should not have been driving.

Contact an Ohio Car Accident Lawyer

If you or a loved one has been hurt due to the negligent conduct of a truck driver, whether driving for herself, another individual, business, or governmental entity, Rubin Guttman & Associates, L.P.A., can help you pursue fair compensation for injuries and damages you've suffered in an Ohio truck accident case. To get started on your case, call us at 216-696-4006 and ask for a free consultation in our Cleveland offices.

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