Heart Attack Causes Car Crash?

Robert Edwards Dec. 14, 2012

Just this past week, out on Highway 65 in Anoka County, there was a report of a rear end crash. The Star Tribune article quoted the investigating officers is saying that a "possible medical emergency might have caused the crash." What they were saying is that the guy who rear-ended the other vehicle might have had a heart attack or stroke or something like that. The question then becomes, is that person liable under the law for the crash? The answer to that is a bit more complicated than it might seem at first blush.If the defendant had a completely unexpected and non-preventable medical emergency and this caused the crash, then they really weren't negligent, and are not liable for any damages or injuries. However, just because they have this medical emergency doesn't necessarily mean that it was completely unexpected and non-preventable. When I see one of these cases the questions that go through my mind are: 1) was this a medical condition that the person was aware of before the crash? 2) had this person been told that they shouldn't drive because of this medical condition? 3) was this person on medication which would have prevented the medical emergency had the medication been taken as directed?

Obviously, each case will turn on its peculiar facts. From the injured person's point of view it is important to realize that the defendant would have the burden of proving this defense.

In a similar vein, years ago I had a case where the defendant was claiming unexpected break failure. They were driving a truck which had been in mothballs all winter and it was the first trip in the spring. They were barreling along on Highway 10 when traffic ahead came to a stop. The driver hit the brakes, the brakes failed, and he rear ended my client at highway speeds. During depositions I learned that this truck had problems with its brakes in the years before the crash, and every spring they would typically check them out and add some brake fluid. This time they didn't. The jury agreed that they were 100% at fault for the crash.