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Sudden Medical Emergencies and Car Accidents

January 12, 2016

Unfortunately, car accidents happen for many reasons.  Drivers may be distracted.  Bad weather can make visibility difficult and stopping even harder.  Perhaps the other car ran a red light and struck you.  Another, less frequent cause for car collisions is what Ohio law calls a "sudden medical emergency."  It's important to know what is (and is not) a sudden medical emergency ("SME") because the condition may excuse the driver who suffered one from paying for injuries or damages he or she caused.

Ohio first recognized "sudden medical emergency" as an excuse (or legal defense) for automotive negligence in 1956.  In Lehman v. Haynam, the Ohio Supreme Court described SME as an instance, "where the driver of an automobile is suddenly stricken by a period of unconsciousness which he had no reason to anticipate and which renders it impossible for him to control the car he is driving. . . ."  But does this mean that a driver who fell asleep behind the wheel and hit you is not liable for injuries he/she caused?  No, not at all.  An SME must be "sudden" - something that arose without warning or expectation.  If one is experiencing the tell-tale symptoms of a heart attack, stroke, or low blood sugar and then decides to get behind the wheel, that driver will not be able to claim SME because the driver already had the warning signs of an imminent and serious medical problem.

The legal excuse of SME is also not available for individuals who have some reason to anticipate the onset of medical problems that could impair driving.  For example, if a driver knows he has medical conditions like sleep apnea or has been up all night long, that driver will probably not be excused from causing automobile collision by claiming a sudden medical emergency.  Similarly, individuals with a prior health history for chronic health conditions that might affect consciousness, including seizure disorder, diabetes, prior heart attacks, strokes, or TIAs (mini-strokes) will not be able to use the SME defense to avoid liability.

At Rubin Guttman & Associates, we're experienced in assessing and overcoming SME defenses.  If you or a loved one are in a car accident where the other driver or his/her insurance company denies responsibility, for any reason, let's discuss what happened and answer your questions.

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