What Happens When a Accident Occurs Due to a Driver’s Medical Condition?

When a Medical Condition Causes Car Accident

On a busy highway, a man has a heart attack while driving his motorcycle. A line of stopped traffic is smashed into by an unconscious truck driver that suffered from a stroke. There are multiple reasons that an accident caused by a medical issue is devastating. They cause injury to innocent people, add to an already severe health issue, and create a complicated situation that makes placing blame difficult. Then there is the issue that more often than not, individuals are not truthful about these incidents.

What Happens When a Car Accident Occurs Due to a Driver's Medical ConditionInstead of honestly admitting their wrongdoing, most individuals will usually choose to lie and state the accident was caused due to a medical condition to avoid blame. While there are some cases where an individual does have a severe medical condition that has the potential to affect their driving ability, choose to ignore this, and get behind the wheel regardless. When you are injured due to an accident like this, it is crucial to know whether you can sue someone with a medical condition.

What if the person is lying, how can it be proven? What if they are telling the truth about their health? Will this prevent you from being compensated for your medical bills or other damage costs? Chronic medical conditions have the potential to be diminished or altered when driving a vehicle, as it is a task that is cognitively complex with many functions. Numerous studies have focused on a medical condition’s role in causing accidents involving motor vehicles. Many of these studies have explicitly focused on specific subgroups of the population, including the elderly, while others focus on specific conditions like diabetes.

A 1965 study of California drivers that had medical conditions known to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which focused on CVD individuals, also known as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, alcoholism, mental illness, and epilepsy, all of these averaged double the number of crashes per 1,000,000 miles. This study was done in comparison to a control group of drivers without any of these conditions.

However, just having a medical condition does not mean an individual is not able to drive anymore. It may mean that restrictions and limitations will be placed on that driver’s license. The limitations placed on an individual driver will be based on the severity of their impairment or condition. These restrictions can ban a driver from driving on any busy interstates or the time a driver can be on the road. Often the limitations on an individual’s license will come from a recommendation by a medical professional.


In California, the law allows for what is referred to as the medical emergency defense, also known as the sudden emergency defense. This law is only applicable if the individual has an unforeseen and legitimate medical condition, and all of the following terms have been met:

  • The driver was not the cause of the emergency.
  • Someone was put in danger of injury due to a crisis that occurred.
  • The driver acted reasonably.

This means that for the medical emergency defense to be used after an accident, it would need to be proven that the accident was the cause of a sudden health crisis that arose. The driver at fault aced reasonably as anyone else would have done. The driver at fault would have to provide detailed medical evidence that supports their unforeseen medical emergency occurred. Not all states have the same requirements for this law, but a driver that has suffered from a sudden medical emergency will often be burdened by showing proof that the conditions above were met.


This defense is not an easy one to use in court. It often has been challenged by being able to show the person at fault acted in an unreasonable manner or evidence being presented that a person was aware, or obviously should have been aware, of the medical condition that caused the incident.

Let’s say, for example, a driver mentioned to someone that they had been feeling lightheaded and dizzy for the past week. This statement can then be used against them after the accident has occurred. Lightheadedness and dizziness are both common early warning signs that a person may have a heart attack. Having a heart attack, or even symptoms of one, would interfere with a person’s ability to maintain full control of a motor vehicle as the law requires.

The abruptness of the medical emergency has to be established. This abruptness means that a driver who has suffered from a sudden medical emergency would have to have been overcome and most often rendered unconscious by an unpredictable medical event. The person driving the vehicle would have no opportunity to avoid the medical emergency that occurred.

If a driver feels any symptoms that could indicate a medical emergency was about to occur, the correct choice of action would be to pull over onto the side of the road, rather than to place other drivers in danger by continuing their commute. You cannot consider a medical emergency to be sudden if symptoms were present and not correctly handled.


The issue of foreseeability also comes into play when attempting to determine whether a specific car accident can be attributed to the sudden medical emergency defense. A driver that does not have any history of heart issues, but has a heart attack.

At the same time, driving could successfully assert this defense we mentioned due to there being no way to anticipate this heart issue. Another similar example of a driver that could apply this defense would be a driver that does not have a history of having any syncopal episodes, suddenly suffering from a low blood pressure drop that causes a blackout.

Many individuals do not seem to be aware of how medical history can come back to haunt them after having an accident. After looking into the cases of California medical emergencies, the most unsuccessful sudden medical emergency defenses failed due to the person at fault having a long history of various medical problems.

The medical defense is used successfully in the rare occurrence that all of the following are true:

  • The individual did not act negligently and acted reasonably.
  • The medical emergency in question was completely unforeseen.
  • The individual involved had no pre-existing medical issues.
  • The individual was put in a situation where they could not control their vehicle due to the medical emergency.

An important aspect to keep in mind is that the medical defense is not eligible for mental health emergencies. A person cannot use mental illness as a defense for negligence or other civil claims, according to California Civil Code 41. So there is no way for an individual to avoid their responsibility in an accident if they were feeling suicidal, having extreme anxiety, or were in a state of psychosis at the time of the accident.


There is no law forbidding you from suing an individual simply because they state a medical condition caused the accident when you are an injured victim. Keep in mind, the medical condition they claim to have may wind up helping your case. You and your lawyer may show that they should have been aware of the dangers involved with their driving with that medical condition.


It is also essential to keep in mind that a person may be lying, mistaken, or scared. They may have blacked out and not have any memory of what occurred. None of these circumstances will leave them in a position where they are automatically not responsible for the incident.

There are times that an older person who is living on a fixed income will become very afraid after an accident, wondering how they will be able to afford the financial impact of the situation.

This situation can sometimes encourage them to use a medical condition as blame instead of merely admitting their making a mistake while driving. No matter what caused an accident, you are still left to pay medical bills, car repair bills, and loss of income from missing days of work when you are injured. A lawsuit can help you get to the bottom of what happened and help you get your bills paid in full.



When an individual blames a medical condition as the cause of a car accident, it makes a case more complicated, but it should not prevent you from suing for damages. With your lawyer’s assistance, you can investigate precisely what happened to cause the accident. This assistance includes obtaining the police report, meeting and interviewing doctors, and working with the insurance companies. There could potentially be plenty of evidence to support your case.


Healthcare facilities and doctors have no desire to be blamed for an accident or be dragged into a court case, so often, they will comply with any legal requests for medical information. Additionally, there have been instances where a defendant’s friends, coworkers, employer, or even a family member may share a random bit of information to assist you with your case.

To determine which party is at fault, the car accident lawyers, as well as the judge, will go over the following information:

  • Gather and look over testimony from neurologists, cardiologists, and any other medical specialists to determine whether or not the driver knew about their condition.
  • Determine whether or not the driver was negligent intentionally through failure to take care of themselves if they were aware of their condition.
  • Determine how much the condition of the driver affected the accident. For instance, if the impairment is a slight issue, the ruling may be that the driver’s health issues had nothing to do with the accident. However, if there was a severe medical condition, it may be that the illness will be a significant factor that contributes to assessing the damages caused.

Reach out and contact an experienced California car accident attorney who can help you ensure your rights are protected after being in a car accident involving a medical emergency. At Arash Law, we are here for your free online evaluation of your car accident case, whenever you need us.


After an injury has occurred, contact the attorneys here at Arash Law. We work with many different aspects of the law, including damages resulting from accidents caused by medical conditions. We are passionate about our clients, focusing on recovering while we work hard handling any legal details. We are passionate about helping the people of California. Contact us now for a free online case evaluation to see how we can help you with your needs.

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DISCLAIMER: Information provided on this blog is not formal legal advice. It is generic legal information. Under no circumstances should the information on this page be relied upon when deciding the proper course of a legal action. Always obtain a free and confidential case evaluation from a reputable attorney near you if you think you might have a personal injury lawsuit.

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