Liability in a rear-end car accident is usually easy to assess as the fault of the second car. But according to car accident attorneys in Fort Lauderdale, these cases are not always as cut-and-dry as they seem, especially ones that involve unforeseen circumstances. In a recent case, an appeals court in Florida threw out an existing verdict, ruling instead that the driver, who had suffered a seizure while behind the wheel, was not at fault for the resulting collision. Medical emergencies while driving can remove the driver’s liability for an accident caused by inattention, especially in cases where the driver briefly loses consciousness or motor skills. This decision has highlighted how juries and judges determine fault and liability in accidents involving medical crises.
The defendant, an assistant manager of a Clearwater pool company, was driving a company car, with a coworker as her passenger, when she rear-ended the car in front of her. The car had been stopped at a red light. The driver of the other car sued the manager for negligence, seeking restitution for the injuries she sustained and the damage done to her car’s rear bumper. A Pinellas County jury sided with the plaintiff, and rendered a guilty verdict.
But upon closer inspection, the Florida appellate courts determined that the liability was in question, because the driver who caused the accident had blacked out after an unexplained seizure. According to Florida’s laws, drivers who have a sudden loss of consciousness while behind the wheel cannot be held responsible in a negligence or personal injury lawsuit if they can prove that the accident was caused by an unforeseen medical emergency. In order to prove this, the driver must demonstrate that he or she actually lost consciousness while driving, and that this loss of consciousness occurred before the accident took place. The attack must be sudden and unforeseeable—meaning the driver must have no history of seizures, dizziness, or sudden blackouts or other medical conditions that cause a loss of consciousness.
In this case, the woman who was driving the company car testified that she had felt funny just before the accident, and felt herself black out for a second, before regaining consciousness, only to black out again. Her next conscious memory, as she claimed, was of the paramedics arriving at the scene of the accident, and helping her out of her car. Her coworker and passenger testified that he had tried to stop their car from hitting the car in front of them at the red light, but he could not reach the brake pedal due to the restraints of his seat belt. He told the judges that no more than 15 seconds had passed from the time the driver admitted to feeling unusual to the time they hit the other car.
Car accident attorneys in Florida say that the testimony of a doctor or board-certified neurologist is extremely helpful in determining who is to blame for an accident in these medical situations. At the driver’s trial, a neurologist testified that the driver could not have anticipated the black out, and labelled the sudden attack a “cryptogenic seizure”—which is a seizure that does not have a known cause. The driver of the first car at the stop light also testified that she was aware that the driver of the company car had suffered a seizure, and went to help her before the paramedics arrived.
At David I. Fuchs, Injury & Accident Lawyers, P.A., our personal injury attorneys anticipate that the appellate court’s decision will have bearing on more car accident cases down the road, and urge drivers to be aware of any change in feeling or unexpected dizziness, headaches, or brief black outs before and while driving. Contact David Fuchs if you have a question about car accidents and liability.