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Sudden Emergency Doctrine, Motor Vehicle Accident, Attorney

Sudden Emergency Doctrine: Here’s What to Know!

Feb 17, 2022 | Blog

Sudden Emergency Doctrine: Here’s What to Know!

Motor vehicle accidents happen on a routine basis all across the United States, and most of the time, it’s quite clear who is at a fault.

But, what about when a driver has had a seizure behind the wheel and inadvertently causes a motor vehicle accident

What if an unexpected heart attack forced a driver to lose control of the wheel? In the cases where an unexpected medical emergency causes a motor vehicle accident, the driver may be relieved of the associated responsibility due to a sudden medical emergency doctrine.

What is the Sudden Medical Emergency Doctrine?

The Sudden Emergency Doctrine is a type of defense that an at-fault party can use to help invalidate the claim of an injury due to a motor vehicle accident.

When someone works with an attorney to initiate a personal injury lawsuit, their attorney will have to prove that the at-fault driver owed other motorists a duty of care, breached that duty through their negligent driving, and that ultimately caused injuries.

Through the use of this defense, the at-fault driver will claim that he/she/they were acting in response to a sudden medical emergency that needed not only their attention but immediate response.

Three elements need to be clear and present to successfully use the sudden emergency defense, those are: 

  • Proof that the defendant encountered a sudden and unexpected situation.
  • Proof that the defendant did not cause this situation.
  • Proof that the defendant acted reasonably during this situation.

For example, if a child was to run out into the street and a driver swerved out of the way to avoid the child and subsequently hit your car, the defense of a sudden emergency would most likely be accepted. At-fault drivers can use many other situations as sudden emergencies that are not actually what they claim, however, a sudden emergency can be quite difficult to prove. 

Claiming a Sudden Emergency Defense

The most important part of the emergency defense is determining if the medical emergency was unforeseeable. To legally follow through with the claim, the judge and jury need to determine that the medical emergency was, in fact, unexpected.

If the emergency was predictable based on the driver’s past or current medical history, and could have been avoided altogether, the sudden emergency defense would not be applicable.


Sudden Medical Emergencies

Suddenly going unconscious is extremely frightening under any circumstances, but even more so while operating a motor vehicle. Any driver suffering from a condition that directly leads to them being rendered unconscious may be able to use the defense of a sudden medical emergency. Examples of conditions that may lead to a blackout during a motor vehicle accident include:

  • Heart Attack.
  • Seizure.
  • Stroke.
  • Delusions.
  • Fainting.
  • Unknown Diabetic Condition.

A driver who experiences a medical emergency needs to prove that they did not know of any preexisting condition which may have led to the medical emergency.

The driver who claims medical emergency defense also has to prove they did not act out of negligence in any way. There are three main factors in claiming sudden medical emergency defense:

  • The time frame of the emergency and the accident.
  • The total loss of control due to unconsciousness.
  • Immediate medical treatment and medical records.

Determining the Time Frame of the Motor Vehicle Accident:

An element to proving unexpected loss of consciousness is how sudden the rate of the accident happened in direct relation to the medical emergency – in other words, the accident would have had to occurred suddenly after the loss of consciousness.

If there was enough time for the driver to gain control, then it may be determined that the accident could have been avoided altogether. If there were warning signs of a condition that may have allowed the driver to pull over, the claim may also not be justified. If the driver knew was aware of any condition where they should not have been driving at all, that would make them negligent.

The Loss of Control:

The sudden medical emergency defense needs to prove total unconsciousness.

The defense is used under the pretense that the driver did not act out of negligence. Sudden and total loss of consciousness needs to be the main reason the driver lost control of the vehicle.

An Unforeseeable Medical Emergency:

Say you were involved in a motor vehicle accident due to a seizure – the severity and unpredictability of the seizure does matter, due to the fact that the emergency doctrine needs to be backed by medical records:

  • Did the driver need immediate hospital care?
  • What is the diagnosis given by a doctor or healthcare professional?
  • Does any medical history show signs of a foreseeable condition?

If, for some reason, a person claims they had a seizure or other condition while driving, there still needs to be recorded proof of that event taking place – their word cannot be simply taken as concrete.

An emergency should require immediate treatment. In other words, if the condition does not require treatment directly after the accident, aside from any injury that may have happened due to the accident, the sudden emergency defense may not hold up in court.

The use of medical records is a strong contributing factor to the legitimacy of a medical emergency defense.


Our Motor Vehicle Accident Attorneys Work to Take The Burden Off Your Shoulders

An experienced motor vehicle accident attorney recognizes that although an accident can occur within seconds, the serious injuries, pain, disability, and financial losses that result can last a lifetime.

Every year, innocent victims are severely injured and sometimes killed in automobile accidents caused by negligent and reckless drivers. Before you agree to a settlement with an insurance company, obtain knowledgeable legal advice from hard-fighting motor vehicle accident lawyers at Marcari, Russotto, Spencer & Balaban.

We understand how important it is to ensure that you are compensated for both today and tomorrow, and we are ready to stand up for your rights.


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