When a Driver Has a Medical Episode: What to Do Next


With most car accidents, fault leaves no question. The driver ran a stoplight, or they made an illegal turn. You can determine fault in these cases with no problem. What happens, however, when the driver had a heart attack or suffered a seizure? Things can get a little trickier when a driver has a medical episode while behind the wheel.

The Sudden Medical Emergency Defense

In most states, they have a law called the “Sudden Medical Emergency Defense.” This law relieves the driver of fault associated with the accident if they had a medical emergency behind the wheel. Law experts reason that the person behind the wheel didn’t make a mistake or act negligently.


There are a few common requirements that you must prove for the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense to apply:


  • First, you will have to prove that loss of consciousness occurred before the accident.
  • Second, you have to prove that the emergency caused you to lose control of the car.
  • Finally, you have to prove that you could not have foreseen the loss of consciousness.

Evidence Rests on You

Speak with an attorney who understands how to use this defense. The burden of proof rests on you, and you will need to gather evidence to show what happened. You have to prove that you couldn’t possibly regain control over the vehicle because of your medical emergency. Medical experts serve a crucial part in this defense.

Responsibility Behind the Wheel

As a driver, you have a responsibility behind the wheel. If you had knowledge of anything to suggest that you might lose consciousness, the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense does not apply. An example would be if you were taking medication that had warned against operating a vehicle.


You have to show that you couldn’t have known that the medical emergency would happen. Without showing you couldn’t have anticipated a problem, you could be placed at fault because the courts will determine that you knew driving to be a risk.


Most Common Reasons

The most common reasons that someone might experience a medical emergency include:


  • Diabetic episodes
  • Strokes
  • Heart Attacks
  • Seizures
  • Severe sneezing

What Should You Do if You Have a Medical Episode?

More than likely, if you had a medical episode behind the wheel, you got into a crash. Your first step is to speak with a lawyer who knows how to defend you in the courts. The laws vary from one state to the next, but in most cases, they won’t hold you liable. If you feel yourself having a medical emergency behind the wheel, ask the passenger to steer if possible. Ease off the accelerator and tap gently on the brakes. You want to put the vehicle to a slow standstill.

What Happens if the Emergency Befalls a Passenger?

A passenger suddenly suffering a heart attack can be traumatic and will certainly distract the driver. However, the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense doesn’t apply here because you didn’t lose consciousness behind the wheel. You have a responsibility to slow the vehicle to a stop and call 911 immediately.


Car accidents caused by a medical emergency are seen differently from other accidents. In cases like this, insurance companies classify it as an Act of God. A driver has no more responsibility for this than what they would have for a hurricane because their medical emergency made it impossible to drive safely.


In some cases, a medical emergency was foreseeable. If the courts determine that to be the case in your situation, you will be held responsible. When filing a claim, you want to tell your lawyer everything about the situation. Only with full knowledge of the circumstances can they offer you the best possible legal support.


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