On October 26th, an 83 year old woman in Michigan was watching TV in her living room when her show was interrupted by a loud “kaboom” (as she described it) over her head. When she went out to investigate, she discovered a Ford Mustang perched on her roof.
According to witnesses, the car had been traveling down I-69 in Perry Township, when it began to veer back-and-forth across the lanes. Eventually, the car flew off the freeway, shot through several bushes, trees, a fence, and a yard, before ending up on top of the woman’s roof.
According to police, the driver likely lost control due to a medical condition that resulted in low blood sugar, for which he was treated at the hospital.
All Things Legal’s Take on Health Conditions and Driving
After describing the events that led to high altitude Mustang, Craig kicked off the legal discussion by posing a pop quiz to fellow attorney Tim Hodson: “So, ending up on the top of the roof here, Tim… this clearly is what?”
Tim quickly responded with the correct answer, “negligence,” because if the driver had a known medical problem, then it was his responsibility to care for his health so that he could safely drive a vehicle. Hodson then added that because of the driver’s negligence, the homeowner “would have a cause of action for property damage to her house, [and] possibly for negligent infliction of emotional distress.”
This prompted Ed Schade to play devil’s advocate for a moment: “Of course, as a plaintiff’s attorney, it’s absolutely negligent. But as a former defense attorney, you know, you could have sudden illness.” By this, Schade meant that if the driver had never experienced the medical condition before, then they couldn’t have reasonably anticipated it.
This led Craig to explain the concept of reasonable care, when it comes to known and unknown medical conditions: “That’s the rub, [if] there’s a sudden illness. What that means in the law, if you don’t have a history of a heart condition, you have a heart attack, and you basically hit somebody, the law says, ‘Look, you can’t anticipate that, and using reasonable care, you could not have been aware that you were going to have this condition, because you had no precursors or signs to require you to protect yourself.’
“Now, when you have low blood sugar, that suggests that you have a medical condition that you need to protect against. So even though the condition was sudden, if you have a history of diabetes or low blood sugar, etc., you’re required to maintain that at a proper level before you get behind the wheel. And if you don’t, then you’re going to be negligent for not maintaining your health, because you were aware of it before, and then you could be responsible for all of the things that occurred.”
It remains to be seen whether the driver in this accident had a previous history of problems with low blood sugar. But the accident serves as a good reminder to drivers who know they suffer from medical maladies: if you know that your condition could cause a loss of control or consciousness, then it is your sole responsibility to do everything you can to prevent such attacks. If you have diabetes, take your insulin. If you have a heart condition, take your nitroglycerin or other prescribed medications. Failing to do so means that if your illness leads to you causing a car accident, then you can be help legally responsible for the entirety of the injury and damage you cause.