A devastating 2019 truck accident is back in the news after investigators revealed that the truck driver concealed medical information when securing the health certificate required to renew his commercial driver’s license. It’s not clear whether the driver’s medical condition caused him to lose control of the vehicle. But, he did lose control, striking a car and pushing it across the median before hitting a van in the oncoming lane of traffic.
Seven people were killed in the series of collisions, including five children on their way to Disney World with a church group. Another eight were injured.
We don’t yet know exactly what happened or what role the driver’s health problems played in the crash. However, he reportedly had heart disease that had gone unreported for years. And, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution also reported that the driver had recently complained of chest pains, but continued to drive his truck. His autopsy listed heart disease as a “contributing factor” in his death.
Could this terrible crash have been avoided if the driver had been honest in his health evaluations, or had chosen to get off the road and see a doctor when he started experiencing symptoms? There’s not enough information publicly available to say for sure. But, we do know that driving with certain medical conditions, ignoring health concerns, driving on certain medications, and failing to properly maintain chronic medical conditions can and does cause traffic crashes.
Medical Conditions and Traffic Crashes
We hear a lot about the risks of driving under the influence, distracted driving, and recently even drowsy driving. Health-related car and truck accidents don’t get much attention, though you may occasionally see a news story about someone suffering a heart attack, stroke, or some other medical crisis behind the wheel.
However, health issues can create risks similar to drinking and driving and other high-risk driving behaviors. That’s why Georgia law and the laws of most other states place restrictions on driving for some with high-risk medical conditions–and why commercial drivers are required to obtain a health certificate to receive or renew their licenses.
Some of these limitations are so routine that you likely never think about them unless you’re impacted. For example, you’ve almost certainly taken a vision test when obtaining or renewing your Georgia driver’s license.
But, other medical conditions are less clearly measurable. Some examples of impairment that may affect safe driving, but can’t be readily tested at the DDS include:
- Conditions that impair cognitive ability, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Serious/uncontrolled diabetes
- Epilepsy and other conditions that cause seizures
- Conditions that result in loss of consciousness, such as syncope
With these conditions, regulation is more complicated. While someone with a previously determined “disqualifying condition” requires a health certificate when applying for or renewing a license, that initial process relies on self-reporting.
Who is Liable for Health-Related Traffic Crashes?
In some situations, a driver whose medical condition triggers a collision is responsible for damages. However, liability depends on the circumstances. In Georgia, a sudden medical emergency (often described as an “act of God”) is a defense to a negligence claim. That can leave injured parties in a tough situation. But, it makes sense. It’s not negligent to have a completely unexpected heart attack or seizure.
If the driver knew about the underlying medical condition and should have known it was dangerous to be on the road, the analysis changes. In that situation, the driver may be deemed negligent simply for having gotten behind the wheel, or for failing to pull over when warning signs emerged. Similarly, a driver who requires medication, corrective devices, or other special measures to drive safely may be found responsible if they failed to take those steps.
Of course, few drivers declare to the officer at the scene or other drivers that they have an underlying medical condition and should never have been on the road. An experienced Atlanta car accident lawyer can obtain this information through the discovery process and work with medical experts to build a case for negligence based on the responsible driver’s decision to drive under conditions that were unsafe given the underlying medical condition.
Third Party Liability in Medically-Triggered Car Crash Cases
Under certain circumstances, a third party may have negligently contributed to the accident. For example, if an Alzheimer’s patient was improperly left unattended by a caretaker and got behind the wheel, that negligent caretaker might be held partially responsible for the damages. Similarly, a family member who entrusted their car to a loved one knowing that person had a medical condition that made it unsafe for them to drive might be held partly responsible.
If you’ve been injured by a driver who experienced a medical crisis on the road, assessing and proving liability can be complicated. It’s in your best interest to speak with an experienced Georgia motor vehicle accident attorney as soon as possible.
Atlanta attorney ReShea Balams fights for maximum compensation for people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence, including victims of motor vehicle accidents, slip and fall injuries, medical malpractice and more. The Balams Firm offers free, no-obligation consultations so injury victims can gather the information they need to make good decisions in difficult times. You can schedule yours right now by calling 855-352-2727 or filling out the contact form on this page.