How is negligence for drivers legally defined and when is a driver not responsible for damages he or she causes?
There are many instances in which a driver's negligence causes property damage, personal injury, or even death. In these cases, the driver is considered "at fault," meaning that although he or she may not have intended to do any damage, the risks involved in his or her behavior should have been foreseen. In such cases, damages can be recovered from the at-fault driver and/or that driver's insurance company.
In some situations, however, the driver is not held accountable for damage or injury caused by his or her actions. Typically, this is when the damages occur as a result of what is termed an "Act of God" or a "sudden medical emergency." An "Act of God" usually refers to a weather condition or an event of nature, such as a tree spontaneously falling, over which the driver has no control.
A medical emergency, on the other hand, occurs when a person is physiologically overcome, another event over which he or she has no control. A driver who has a sudden heart attack, for example, and, as a result, loses control of the vehicle, plowing into a store front or home, cannot usually be held responsible for resulting occurrences, even catastrophic ones. Sudden medical emergencies that have been used as a defense in vehicular accidents include:
- Heart attacks or stroke
- Diabetic events
- Medication reactions
- Psychiatric delusions
Syncope, an idiopathic loss of consciousness (fainting), as well as episodes of severe sneezing or severe pain, have also been defined as "medical emergencies."
Nonetheless, drivers are expected to exercise reasonable care in the operation of their vehicles. This includes not only following the rules of the road and maintaining their vehicles so that they operate safely, but exercising reasonable caution relative to their own health conditions. There are situations in which, although the defendant driver has suffered a medical episode that resulted the accident, the driver can be held responsible for not taking appropriate precautions. These include situations in which the driver:
- Had been medically advised not to drive
- Had experienced similar episodes before
- Felt ill, but continued driving
- Took medication known to interfere with driving ability
It is possible to fake a medical episode, or to use a made-up medical episode as a defense, but it is very difficult to prove that such a scam has taken place, While whether a driver has suffered a heart attack can be proved through medical testing, an episode of syncope is almost impossible to substantiate or disprove. In New York State, the determination of negligence is made in terms of "foreseeability." If a driver has suffered fainting spells or hypoglycemic episodes previously, for instance, that driver may be held responsible for not foreseeing the reasonable possibility of their recurrence.
If you are facing charges related to a vehicular accident in upstate New York State, whether or not there are medical issues involved, or if you require skilled legal services for another reason, please contact one of our highly experienced criminal defense attorneys at Ianniello Anderson at 518.350.7755.