What is the Medical Emergency Defense?

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 originates from 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
  • Stroke
  • Seizure
  • Syncope

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.

The 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.

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