Categorized | Opinion

Passed out behind the wheel

By David Pell

David PeelAs an injury lawyer I read some pretty unusual cases. There are some cases where someone is passed out at the wheel and causes an accident.
The most common involves drinking and drugs. Clearly the person is negligent in taking medication that causes intoxication. As a result they are generally negligent if they rear-end someone or cause other types of injuries.
However, many other forms of passing out at the wheel may not cause liability.
In the case of a Miss Higdon, she had gone without eating all day and had just finished a long shopping trip when she felt hungry. She got a couple bites of a burger and drank some of her Coke but then suddenly passed out at the wheel. The occupants of her car were powerless to help before she rear-ended a car injuring the man in it.
The injured man of course made a claim against her for driving into the rear of his vehicle. A lawsuit was filed in court that had to have a hearing. The hearing is called a Summary Judgment Hearing.
Summary Judgment is great when there is no issue of material fact by which a jury could award damages.
The court granted the motion for Summary Judgment of the defendant and decided that she could never be held liable for this accident.
Keep in mind she rear-ended this man and hurt him. It was clearly not his fault. But the court determined it could not be her fault either. The reasons why deal with a concept important in the law called “Foreseeability.”
The court concluded that it was not foreseeable that just skipping meals would make one pass out since she had never had that problem before from skipping meals and she had never been under medical care or found it as an adult.
The exact opposite conclusion was reached in another case where a Mr. Wilder had a brain tumor that was not found until after the accident during a CT scan.
It was found that he had a seizure during the accident and he argued he was not at fault. However, the court was able to find evidence where he’d had other seizures previously, even though he didn’t know what was causing them. The fact that he had procedures and was still driving was enough to find it was foreseeable he may have a seizure on this day and therefore he was liable.
Of course, causing an accident is probably the only way his brain tumor was going to be found as quickly as it was and it may have saved his life. But that’s another story.
In a case that must’ve been terrifying for the occupants, a limousine driver passed out while driving and caused a terrible accident.
Early on the morning of the accident he had an abscess tooth and took a Tylenol Three that had codeine in it. He was going to the dentist that afternoon and had gotten shots and a prescription for penicillin to work on the infection. He did not pass out until after midnight that evening.
In this case the medical proof showed that the defendant should not have operated machinery after taking codeine. But because it was almost 20 hours, there was no medical proof that neither that nor the shots at the dentist of Novocain would have had any impact on causing him to pass out.
Now in these cases it doesn’t actually matter as much what caused him to pass out, it just matters whether or not it was foreseeable that it would cause him to pass out.
And what is most unjust about this is that the truly innocent victims who are injured in these cases likely have no recovery even from their own UM coverage.
This is because in most uninsured motorist coverage’s one must prove fault of the defendant to recover from your own insurance. And the defendant is held not at fault in cases where there is no foreseeability that they will pass out while driving.
Drive carefully.
Peel seeks justice for those injured in car accidents, work place incidents, medical malpractice, and nursing homes. He often addresses churches, clubs and groups without charge. Peel may be reached through PeelLawFirm.com wherein other articles may be accessed.
— What do you think? Send Letters to the Editor to thomas.sellers@journalinc.com.

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