Written on Sep 18, 2013 2:07:00 PM
A Previous Medical Condition Causes a Car Accident, Who's at Fault?
Few people actually ever want to be in a car accident. The process of dealing with the various lawyers, doctors, mechanics, and claims adjusters that the accident resolution process entails is a pain for anyone to go through.
However, each year thousands of accidents occur across the nation. Despite the best efforts of educational defensive driving programs, law enforcement, and even drivers, accidents still keep happening.
Sometimes, these accidents are the inevitable result of hazardous road conditions, such as flash floods, hurricanes, or tectonic disturbances. Unfortunately, the most frequent cause of vehicular accidents is not nature. Instead, the leading cause of vehicular accidents is impaired driving.
When the term "impaired driving" is brought up, the assumption is usually that the "impaired driver" is guilty of DWI, or driving while intoxicated. In fact, if you try to look up impaired driver in Google, Bing, or Yahoo!, odds are the first three or more pages of results will be stories about DWI accidents or statistics about drunk driving.
However, alcohol and drugs are not the only factors that can impair a driver's ability to enact safe driving techniques. Another form of impaired driving can occur when a driver has a preexisting medical condition that affects their ability to operate a motor vehicle.
Many states have restrictions on the issuance of driver's licenses based on any conditions that can increase the risks of the driver becoming involved in an accident.
For example, states now require an eye examination as a part of the license application process. With this eye exam, the license issuer can verify that the license applicant can see the road well enough to read traffic and speed limit signs, as well as be able to recognize other vehicles on the road and distinguish their location and direction of travel.
If a driver has impaired vision, the state will require the driver to correct their vision before allowing them to obtain a license. Usually, this means that a driver who is near-sighted or has weak vision has to wear corrective lenses or undergo corrective surgery to make them able to see normally enough for basic driving functionality.
In the state of Florida, if a driver's vision is bad enough to require corrective lenses, their license will be amended to note this requirement. If a driver who needs corrective lenses is pulled over and is not wearing their lenses, they can be cited for a second-degree misdemeanor with 60 days of jail and a $500 fine or more depending on the severity of the visual impairment.
While visual impairment seems like it is an obvious way in which a driver can be considered an increased safety risk on the road, and therefore subject to penalty under the law for driving while impaired, there are other medical conditions that can be considered sufficient impairment to restrict a driver's eligibility to be allowed on the road.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation website details that they will place restrictions on a license based on the medical conditions of the driver. This includes stipulations of when the driver may operate a vehicle and where they can drive.
The driver in this case is examined for functional ability including:
- Effects or side effects of medication
- Reliability in following a prescribed treatment program
- Behavioral and physical stability
- Cognitive ability (ability to think and focus on the task at hand)
- Reaction time (a.k.a. reflex speed)
- Range of Motion (can the driver use their limbs to operate the vehicle)
- Strength and Endurance (enough to operate a motor vehicle)
The complete list can be found on the Wisconsin DOT website, alongside their criteria for the cancellation of a license based on physical or mental impairments and the review process.
The rules for what is considered a debilitating physical condition may vary from state to state, so be sure to check with your state's DMV office or a legal expert who knows your state's rules and regulations. If you plan to travel from one state to another for any length of time, it may be necessary to seek legal counsel if you have a medical condition that the destination state may consider to be sufficiently debilitating to warrant prohibiting you from driving.
Legal Limitations For Drivers Impairments?
The answer to this question can depend heavily on what type of impairment the driver has, and if it was a factor in the accident. In the case of very mild impairments where the condition did not contribute to the accident, such as a driver having recently recovered from a head cold, the preexisting medical condition might go undiscovered and thus not even be considered as an element in the accident.
In the case of severe impairments, such as a driver who experiences epileptic seizures, the illness can be considered a determining factor in the assessment of fault. If it is established that the medical condition was the cause of the accident, then the driver with the condition would be considered "at fault" for the collision.
Note that this only applies if the driver was aware of the existing medical condition, and thereby exercised negligence in operating a motor vehicle while impaired. In the instance of neurological disorders, the sufferer may not be aware of the existence of their condition. If the impaired driver with seizures knew that they could have a seizure behind the wheel and cause an accident, then they can be held as being criminally negligent. If the driver had never before experienced a seizure, then they could fall under an exemption based on the "Sudden Emergency Doctrine," which could complicate the establishment of fault in the accident. Although this doctrine is usually defined as "a doctrine that excuses a person from having to act with reasonable care if that person acted with a sudden and urgent need for aid in an emergency" by legal term definition sites such as Nolo, it can be applied by defendants in cases of vehicular accidents.
When arguing for Sudden Emergency, however, the defendant has to establish that they were unaware of the potential risk, so if their license has a restriction related to their condition or their medical records reveal that they were aware of their risk, the defense will usually be thrown out.
If you have a pre-existing medical condition, but do not know how it will impact your ability to drive or your status as being at-fault for an accident, do not hesitate to contact an expert for legal advice. By keeping yourself informed of your legal rights and obligations, you can minimize your risks and expenses in your traffic accident case.