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When a Medical Condition Contributes to a Vehicle Collision, Who is at Fault?

Each year, upwards of hundreds of thousands of vehicle collisions happens—this is even after drivers have made a conscious effort to adopt safe driving techniques. The problem is that even the safest driver cannot compensate for road conditions outside of their control, including:

  • Hazardous road conditions
  • Weather
  • Drunk drivers
  • Preexisting or emergency medical conditions
  • Driving under the influence…of a preexisting medical condition

While typically associated with the use of alcohol, illicit drugs or prescription medication, impaired driving should also include a preexisting medical condition—some suggest as much as 20% of accidents caused by an impairment stem from preexisting medical conditions.

For example, several conditions can affect a person's body enough to make it unsafe for them to operate a motor vehicle, including:

  • Diabetes - occurs when a person lets their blood sugar become too high or low
  • Heart disease - due to the onset of fatigue, shortness of breath, and weakness symptoms, which can be common, and can increase the risk of losing consciousness
  • Seizure disorders
  • Poor eyesight - most states also now require an eye examine in order to receive a license, ensuring that the applicant can see well enough to distinguish other vehicles and read road signs like speed limits.

While having one of these conditions will not mean that an individual cannot drive, it may mean that limitations and/or restrictions may be placed on their license. These limitations are based on the severity of their condition, or impairment. Typically restrictions involve when a person can drive (i.e. epileptics and those with poor eyesight often cannot drive at night), while other restrictions may ban driving on busy interstates.

These limitations to a person's license usually come at the recommendation of their healthcare professional.

Who is at Fault in the Event of a Vehicle Accident?

Typically, it is easy to determine who is at fault during an accident: the driver who has had too many drinks or the person who rear-ends another driver. However, it is more complicated when someone simply does not see something due to poor eyesight and even more so if a driver has a seizure.

The problem is there is typically not a one-fits-all answer. Each accident and each case can vary due to any number of factors, including intentionality of negligence, how much the medical condition contributed to the crash, bodily injuries, property damage and more.

Legal limitations for drivers' impairments depend on the impairment, and if it was a factor in the accident (as well as to what degree). In the case of mild to slight impairments (where the condition did not contribute to the accident), the preexisting medical condition might go undiscovered.

However, in the case of a severe impairment (i.e. epilepsy, other seizure disorders or uncontrolled diabetes), the illness can be considered a determining factor in the assessment of fault. In these instances, if it is determined that the condition had enough of a factor, the driver with the preexisting condition would be deemed at fault.

Further confusion results when the medical condition was previously unknown. For example, a person who is diagnosed with a seizure disorder and knows they could have a seizure at any time, but gets behind the wheel anyway, can be charged with criminal negligence in the event of a crash. However, someone who has never experienced a seizure before could fall under the "sudden emergency doctrine" exemption—which would make a ruling harder.

Being involved in a car accident is never a pleasant experience—especially if the accident is out of your control. Moreover, it is hard to know how to properly handle the legalities of assigning fault and obtaining compensation without the help of a trained law professional.

If you have been involved in a vehicle accident please schedule a free consultation with Tennessee vehicle collision attorneys at Gilreath & Associates today. We can help you build your case.

In addition, you can also browse our blog and Tennessee Personal Injury Guide to learn more about determining fault and much more.

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