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Can At-Fault Drivers Use the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense in Maryland?

Posted on behalf of Goldberg Finnegan, LLC on May 18, 2021 in Car Accidents

elderly man suffering heart attack while drivingMaryland drivers owe a duty of care to each other to take reasonable steps to avoid causing harm to themselves or others on the road. For example, drivers are expected to obey traffic laws.

However, what if a driver suffers a sudden medical emergency that makes him or her unable to safely operate his or her vehicle? Can you still recover damages from this person’s insurance policy if you get injured in a crash with this person’s vehicle?

Our knowledgeable Silver Spring auto accident lawyers discuss this issue in detail below. We have decades of combined experience and a successful track record. We can help you understand your legal options after a crash, and there is zero cost to you and no obligation to file a claim.

Need a free case review? Call (888) 213-8140 today.

Understanding the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense

Maryland is one of many states that recognizes the sudden medical emergency defense in certain situations. Unlike other states, however, there is no statute referencing this defense. The defense is applied based on case law.

In simple terms, if a driver is incapacitated by a sudden and unforeseen medical emergency, he or she is not expected to be able to respond reasonably to avoid a crash. That means he or she cannot be held liable for damages that may result from the crash.

As straightforward as it sounds, there is more to this defense.

When May a Sudden Medical Emergency Be Legitimate?

The burden of proof falls on the driver claiming a sudden medical emergency. He or she must be able to establish these three elements:

  • The driver became suddenly incapacitated prior to the collision
  • As a result of becoming incapacitated, the driver lost control of the vehicle
  • The incapacitation and loss of vehicle control were due to the sudden medical emergency

Common Medical Emergencies That Can Incapacitate a Driver

There are many types of medical emergencies that could legitimately incapacitate a driver or render him or her unconscious, such as:

  • Brain aneurism
  • Seizure
  • Fainting or blacking out
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Choking

What Makes a Medical Emergency Foreseeable?

Although sudden medical emergencies do happen, an at-fault driver may also falsely claim this defense to try to avoid paying for the damages he or she caused. A sudden medical emergency is only unforeseen if the driver had no reasonable expectation of becoming medically incapacitated. If the other driver knew or should have known about the potential risk, then he or she could be liable.

For example, a driver with a preexisting history of seizures could be liable if he or she:

  • Did not follow-up with the doctor for ongoing care
  • Neglected to follow prescribed treatment, such as taking medication to control the seizures
  • Was restricted from driving, but decided to get behind the wheel anyway

Having an attorney on your side may greatly benefit you as he or she can review claims made by the at-fault driver to determine their merit. He or she may also be able to counter these claims.

Evidence That May Help Establish Liability

To help determine liability, an attorney will need to investigate whether the other driver’s claim of a sudden medical emergency is legitimate, including:

  • Examining medical records of the at-fault driver
  • Determining if that driver had any pre-existing medical conditions, such as a heart condition, and whether it was being treated
  • Finding out if the driver was following his or her prescribed plan of care, such as taking medication
  • Learning whether the doctor had restricted that individual from driving because of his or her medical condition

Even if the medical emergency is valid, the crash might still be considered foreseeable. For example, if the driver was having chest pains but ignored them instead of pulling over to the side of the road, he or she may still be liable for the crash.

Who is Liable if the Sudden Medical Emergency is Valid?

If the other driver was legitimately incapacitated at the time of the collision, he or she will not be held liable for the damages. However, in this situation, you may still be able to seek some compensation through your Maryland auto insurance, such as if you carry:

  • Personal Injury Protection (PIP): PIP covers medical expenses and lost wages, up to the limits of your policy. Although Maryland insurers are only required to offer $2,500 in coverage, drivers can opt to buy more.
  • Collision Coverage: This is optional coverage that may be available to help pay for vehicle damages.
  • Medical Payments Coverage: This coverage is also optional, but if you have it, it may help you pay for medical costs related to the crash. You must have purchased this coverage when you bought or renewed your existing insurance policy.

Call Our Firm for Legal Help and Answers to Your Questions

At Goldberg and Finnegan, our qualified attorneys have been representing injured victims in Maryland for decades, recovering more than $130,000,000 for our clients.

We offer a free legal consultation to help injured victims learn if they may have a valid case. Call our office 24/7 to schedule this free case review. There is no obligation to hire our services or pursue a claim after this meeting. If you have a case and we represent you, there is nothing for you to pay up front or throughout the legal process. We only get paid if you do.

Experienced lawyers. No Upfront Costs. Call: (888) 213-8140

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