Drunkenness, drowsiness, distraction – we can all point to a number of ways in which a driver's condition can contribute to a dangerous car accident. Many people, however, would leave a more basic element off of the list: driver health. There are many health conditions that can increase the risk of an accident. This includes a range of conditions, including both known and unknown health threats as well as both chronic and acute conditions. Our Panama City car accident injury lawyer understands that accidents caused by health conditions can be emotionally complex, but also knows that injured accident victims still deserve, and often truly need, monetary compensation. Furthermore, such cases help reiterate the fact that drivers are responsible for their own health and for how it may impact their abilities behind the wheel.
A car accident that claimed a life in our region on Tuesday appears to have been linked to driver health, as recounted by a report from WJHG. William Lester Thomas, a 56-year-old man from DeFuniak Springs, was driving through a parking lot located at 901 State Road 20 in Freeport. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, a fatal medical condition claimed Thomas' life while he was behind the wheel. His vehicle continued moving, crossing a field before crashing into a brick wall. No other vehicles were involved in the crash. Officials did not immediately reveal the nature of the health condition that precipitated the single-car crash.
In the Introduction to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's ("NHTSA") November 2009 report, "The Contribution of Medical Conditions to Passenger Vehicle Crashes," the agency cites the Center for Disease Control's 2006 estimate that 133 million Americans suffer from at least one chronic condition. The agency notes that this number makes the question of health's impact on driving particularly important, despite the fact that a handful of earlier studies dismissed the idea that there was an increased accident rate for either diabetic or epileptic drivers (assuming the conditions are controlled by a doctor). In the November 2009 study, the NHTSA reviewed accident figures to find out the role medical emergencies played in car accidents between 6 AM and 12 AM from July 3, 2005 until December 31, 2007.
Ultimately, the NHTSA found that only 1.3% of sampled crashes involved a medical emergency. Where a medical emergency did precipitate a crash, the most common problems included the following conditions: seizures (35%); blackouts, including those due to medication, dehydration, and other medically-related losses of consciousness (29%); and diabetic reactions (20%). Additional questions (asked to either the driver or, where the driver was unavailable to respond, a surrogate) revealed that most drivers were aware of the condition that led to the accident. Drivers age 65 and older were involved in a higher percentage of medically precipitated crashes than young and middle-aged drivers. Males were also disproportionately represented.
Given our aging population, medical emergencies may grow into a more substantial problem. While the total percentage of accidents caused by a medical emergency is small, it is still worthy of close attention. The NHTSA suggests health care providers should educate patients about recognizing the early signs of a health emergency. Additionally, general accident prevention technologies, such as Drowsy Driver Warning Systems may help. Most medically precipitated crashes involved departure from the road, suggesting that lane departure warnings might help alert a driver to a problem with enough time to avoid a crash.
If another driver's health caused an accident that left you injured, you may have a civil claim against the driver. While some may feel a bit of guilt at bringing a claim against someone who suffered a sudden medical emergency, these claims remain valid and important. Bringing suit will help bring additional attention to the threat of health emergencies on the road, encouraging drivers to evaluate their well-being before getting behind the wheel and encouraging others (ex. relatives, doctors) to intervene when a driver's health may be creating an accident risk. Further, those injured by a driver who lost control due to an emergency have very real costs associated with the crash, and deserve compensation.
Call our Panama City injury law firm and schedule a free consultation to discuss your unique case. The consultation is free and, in most cases, there is no fee unless you recover money.