When an individual experiences an unexpected, incapacitating illness while
driving and they cause an accident or injury to someone, they usually
use the medical emergency defense. This defense protects at-fault drivers
from serious legal ramifications in the event of an injury that they could
not control. Medical emergencies are not considered negligence because
the responsible party did not intend to hurt anyone, nor were they able
to control their actions because of their physical condition. Unfortunately,
this still leaves the injured victim uncompensated. That is why it is
imperative that the medical emergency defense be strictly applied.
Florida upholds the sudden and unexpected loss of capacity defense. In
this case, the driver is not chargeable with negligence if they unexpectedly
become incapacitated or lose consciousness. The authority on this defense
Feagle v. Purvis, 891 So. 2d 1096 (Fla. App. 2004). In the case, Purvis was driving a boat
when he experienced a heart attack and slumped over the gears. He crashed
into an individual on the shoreline, Feagle, but was not considered responsible
for the damage.
To claim the medical emergency defense, the defendant must prove:
1. The defendant suffered a loss of consciousness or capacity. See, e.g.,
Bridges v. Speer, 79 So.2d 679, 681 (Fla. 1955); Wilson v. The Krystal
Co., 844 So.2d 827 (Fla. 5th DCA 2003).
2. The loss of consciousness or capacity occurred before the defendant’s
purportedly negligent conduct. Malcolm v. Patrick, 147 So.2d 188, 193
(Fla. 2nd DCA 1962).
3. The loss of consciousness was sudden. Baker v. Hausman, 68 So.2d 572,
573 (Fla. 1953); Malcolm, supra.
4. The loss of consciousness or capacity was neither foreseen, nor foreseeable.
See, e.g., Baker, supra; Wilson, supra; Wingate v. United Servs. Auto.
Ass’n., 480 So.2d 665 (Fla. 5th DCA 1986); Malcolm, supra.
Examples of medical emergencies include:
- Heart Attack
The two key elements of disproving the driver’s responsibility are
the suddenness of the medical event and the foreseeability. This means:
Suddenness – If a driver is caught unaware by a medical trauma, they are often
overcome by the event and rendered unconscious or incapacitated.
Foreseeability – A driver in a medical emergency should not have pre-existing health condition
that would impair their driving.
A case where the medical emergency defense would not hold would be if the
driver was diabetic, did not eat before driving, and then passed out because
of low sugar. Because they knew the consequences of not caring for their
medical condition, they left both themselves and others are risk.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that 49,867 individuals caused accidents because of a medical
emergency. While they may not be responsible for the damage, innocent
people still get hurt. That is why it is imperative that the plaintiffs
obtain qualified attorneys to closely examine the situation. Many times,
the medical emergency defense does not hold because the defendant had
some medical history that preluded the event.
Who Pays in a Medical Emergency Defense?
If the driver can successfully prove that they experienced a medical emergency
while in the car, then they can avoid having to pay for the damages and
injuries. Florida requires all drivers to have Personal Injury Protection
(PIP) insurance, which exonerates fault. However, the injured plaintiffs
are left without compensation.
At The Pittman Firm, P.A., we believe that injury victims deserve restitution
for the damages they sustain. Our personal injury attorneys closely examine
medical emergency defenses, trying to find fault with the narrative. Sometimes,
the defense uses this tactic to avoid paying their dues. We will make
sure to look closely at every detail to disprove the claim and help our
clients. If you were injured because of someone else’s negligence,
contact us today! We will help review your case and inform you of your rights.