Motor vehicle accidents are increasingly common and increasingly deadly. Yesterday, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published an alarming article about the incidence of car wrecks occurring due to driver blackouts. Drivers suffer loss of consciousness or syncope for a variety of reasons, including atrial fibrillation (“A Fib”) and other heart rhythm abnormalities, strokes and TIAs, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), anxiety attack, drug abuse and anemia.
The JAMA article reported that when a patient is treated for a syncopal episode, the patient is at an increased risk for a subsequent car crash. Though the study was based on a Danish national registry, researchers believed that accident rate in the U.S. might be even higher because we have a higher baseline of traffic accidents and fatalities. In the study, the rate of motor vehicle crashes almost doubled for patients seeking treatment for syncope than among the general population (20.6 vs. 12.1 per 1000 person-years). Worse yet, the accident rate was even higher 4 years after the initial syncopal episode.
Under Ohio law, courts are unkind to motorists who suffer personal injury or wrongful death as a result of another driver blacking out and colliding with their car. Ohio courts hold that if an individual suffers a “sudden emergency,” such as a heart attack, and thereby loses control of their automobile, then they are not liable for injuries caused by the resulting collision. The exception to this rule is that loss of consciousness cannot be foreseeable. In other words, if the driver knew that they were at risk of blacking out, and should not have been driving in the first place, then the sudden emergency defense does not apply. Defeating the sudden emergency defense requires careful evaluation of the defendant’s medical history by a car accident attorney.
As Ohio car accident lawyers, such as a car accident lawyer in Cleveland, OH, handling serious motor vehicle accidents statewide, the JAMA article is alarming to us. Powerful insurance companies have convinced the highest court to deny protection to victims injured by a driver who blacks out.
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This is an interesting question that requires some investigation in each case in which it arises. First, you have to confirm whether the blackouts are truly infrequent. Second, are they controlled by medication and is the person who blacked out compliant with his/her medications? Third, was the underlying condition properly diagnosed? Then, a review of case law is necessary to determine whether the black out was foreseeable. If not, does the individual have uninsured motorist coverage that will nonetheless cover the loss? Feel free to call us if you have specific questions.
How can infrequent blackouts be handled if cause is not known?