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Sudden Emergency Doctrine: A Defense to Vehicle Collisons, Crashes and Wrecks

Posted by Jim Miron | Jul 07, 2022 | 0 Comments

It's terrifying to lose consciousness during a crash. If you're in a car wreck and you black out, feel confused, or hit your head, you should always seek urgent medical attention because head injuries can take a few hours or days to develop following the incident.

When the driver of a car, motorcycle, or truck that hits you claims that they had a sudden medical emergency. This person might argue they're not responsible for the crash – or your injuries – if they lost consciousness or incurred some other medical emergency and couldn't stop the accident from happening.

Is this a legitimate defense, though? Well, it depends. Below, I'll explain how this “sudden emergency” defense works, why it might be problematic for victims, and how a personal injury attorney can help you get the compensation you deserve in these cases.  

Proving Fault in Personal Injury Claims

Normally, you must prove four things to make a personal injury claim for damages after a vehicle wreck.

  • Duty of care: First, you need to show that someone owed you a “duty of care.” Drivers and motorcyclists are expected to exercise caution, care, and attention to protect other road users.
  • Breach of duty: Then, you must show the other person breached this duty in some way; for example, they drove negligently or carelessly.
  • Injury: Next, you must prove you were injured. Evidence such as medical records and photos can help with this.
  • Causation: Finally, you must prove that the other person's negligent actions caused your injuries.

What happens, though, if the defendant claims they were powerless to stop the wreck because they lost consciousness at the wheel? Let's take a look.

The Sudden Emergency Doctrine

The sudden emergency doctrine, or rule, is a defense the at-fault party might try to use against your personal injury claim.

Under this rule, the defendant can argue that they're not liable for your injuries because they were dealing with a sudden emergency situation, and they couldn't do anything to stop the crash. For example, if someone loses consciousness and crashes into you, they might argue that they couldn't do anything to stop the situation from arising.  Other examples could include a person having a heart attack or even a non-medical emergency like blinding sun in their eyes.

Elements of the Sudden Emergency Defense

To rely on the sudden emergency doctrine, the defendant must prove three things:

  • A situation arose unexpectedly and without warning;
  • The defendant didn't cause the situation (i.e., they weren't driving negligently); and
  • The defendant acted reasonably in the circumstances.

For example, if the at fault driver says they're not to blame for your injuries due to a medical emergency like loss of consciousness, they must show that:

  • They lost consciousness with no warning;
  • The loss of consciousness caused them to lose control of the vehicle; and
  • They couldn't foresee the loss of consciousness, e.g., they didn't already feel ill, and they weren't knowingly driving with an existing condition.

The sudden emergency doctrine can be complex, but as an experienced personal injury attorney, I can explain how it might affect your case and how I would work to overcome it.              

How You Can Challenge the Sudden Emergency Doctrine

An unexpected medical event might be a defense against a personal injury claim if the defendant could do nothing to stop the crash. If the defense is successful, you won't get compensation for the injuries you sustained. However, as an experienced personal injury attorney, I know that it's often possible to challenge the sudden emergency defense – here are the two main ways to do it.

Knowledge of Existing Condition

Some medical conditions may affect a person's ability to drive safely. If the defendant is prohibited from driving on medical grounds but breaks the rules and drives anyway, they could still be liable for your injuries – even if they blacked out due to this condition.

What's more, if they have a medical condition for which they're taking medication but don't take their medicine and therefore lose consciousness, they could be held liable because they acted carelessly in forgetting their medication.   

Negligent Driving

Even if a medical emergency arose, we can sometimes still show the at-fault driver acted negligently before they blacked out. Here are some examples.

  • The person broke the speed limit or drove erratically before taking ill.
  • They knowingly drove with a mechanical defect, e.g., faulty brakes or damaged tires, which increased the chances of losing control of the vehicle.
  • The person was drunk or under the influence of illegal drugs before the crash.
  • The driver of a heavy truck failed to properly secure a load that came loose during the crash and contributed to your injuries.

It may be possible to challenge the defendant's evidence on other grounds to ensure you're fairly compensated for the harm done – it all depends on the unique facts of your case. If you hire me as your attorney, I will explain what options may be available to you. 

Are They Lying?

It is possible that some people that try to use this dense are simply lying to get off the hook for the consequences of their actions. This seems like a particularly drastic option, especially when the at-fault driver has insurance. However, in cases where the injury is serious, or even resulted in death, an at-fault driver might try this tactic with or without the help of an ethically challenged lawyer. An experienced personal injury trial attorney will seek permission to access the at-fault drivers medical records and do further investigation to determine if there is a legitimate sudden emergency.

Compensation for Vehicle Crash Injuries

If you can prove that the defendant is to blame for your injuries, then you may be able to claim damages for the harm done. How much you can claim depends on the facts of your case, but you might be able to seek compensation for:

  • doctor's visits
  • loss of earning potential
  • lost wages
  • medication
  • pain and suffering
  • rehabilitation

Every case is a little different, but I can accurately determine what your case is worth to ensure you don't settle for less than you deserve.    

Hire a Dedicated Personal Injury Attorney in Connecticut

As an experienced personal injury attorney, I fight to ensure my clients get the maximum compensation they're entitled to. If you're worried about how a defendant's medical emergency might impact your claim, I'm here to help. I understand exactly how difficult and stressful car crash lawsuits can be, but I'll work tirelessly to ensure you're treated fairly during the entire process.

If you're dealing with vehicle crash injuries and don't know where to turn, I want to help. Contact me, attorney Jim Miron, for a free case evaluation at (203) 339-5991 or complete the contact form. O if you want to learn more about how I work before retaining my services, please watch this video. 

About the Author

Jim Miron is a website dedicated to informing people seriously injured due to the fault of another understand their rights and find an attorney that can help them in their time of need. This website is managed by Attorney Jim Miron, Managing Attorney at The Maddox Law Firm. LLC...


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