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Who’s Liable for Accidents Caused by Medical Emergencies Behind the Wheel?

Written by Ankin Law Office

When a car accident occurs because of an unforeseen medical emergency behind the wheel, a driver can assert a “sudden medical emergency defense.” This defense relieves a driver of negligent liability and personal injury claims filed through an auto accident lawyer.

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Who's liable for accidents infographic

What is a Sudden Medical Emergency Defense?

The rationale for this defense is that a person who suffers a sudden medical emergency while driving is not acting in a negligent manner. When an accident occurs, the driver is not held responsible because the accident is caused by something unforeseen and out of the driver’s control. However, a driver who claims a medical emergency while behind the wheel must prove his/her defense. Proof includes:

  • Sudden loss of consciousness before the accident occurred
  • Loss of consciousness caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle
  • Loss of consciousness was caused by an unforeseen medical emergency

A sudden medical emergency must be proven. Unlike impaired driving, a sudden medical emergency often renders a driver unconscious and he/she has no opportunity to control the accident. If medical symptoms are present while driving, but ignored before the accident, the medical emergency is not considered sudden.

A driver must also prove that the medical emergency was unforeseen. If a driver has no medical history of heart problems, but suffers a heart attack while driving, an auto accident lawyer can likely prove a sudden medical emergency defense. However, if the driver has a documented medical history of heart problems, the defense will likely be rejected on the basis that the medical emergency was reasonably foreseeable.

Illinois Insurance Laws

Illinois does recognize the sudden medical emergency defense and follows fault insurance laws in determining liability for damages from a car accident. Insurance laws hold the at-fault driver legally responsible for an accident. Typically, an at-fault driver’s insurance carrier covers damages for property and personal injuries, unless the sudden medical emergency defense is successfully proven in court by an auto accident lawyer.

In Illinois, a person who suffers property damage and/or injuries in a car accident has three ways to recover damages:

  • File a claim with his/her own insurance company
  • Pursue a claim directly with the other driver’s insurance company
  • File a personal injury lawsuit against the at-fault driver in civil court

In Illinois, no-fault laws require an injured motorist to first exhaust his/her own insurance policy limits for damages before pursuing a claim against the other driver, regardless of who is at fault.

Categories: Auto Accidents