Auto accidents are often caused by driver negligence. Drivers who drive while intoxicated, distracted, or tired should be held liable for the injuries and fatalities they cause. Drivers who speed or run through red lights should be liable for all the harm they cause. Liability is less certain, though, if a driver has an accident due to circumstances beyond his/her control, such as a heart attack.
It may be difficult to know whether the heart attack caused the accident or the accident caused the heart attack. The issue of liability and the ability to recover damages depend, in part, on who the accident victim is. Is it the person who suffered the heart attack or someone else?
While heart attack cases are more difficult, experienced Chicago car accident lawyers work with cardiologists and other medical professionals to determine how the injuries occurred. We work with investigators, the police, and other professionals to determine how the accident happened.
What is the sudden emergency doctrine?
Drivers in many states are not liable if a sudden emergency occurs. The idea is that drivers should not be held liable for things they couldn’t prevent – things that were an Act of God or beyond their control. The key elements of a sudden medical emergency defense are:
- An “unforeseeable” medical emergency causes a loss of consciousness
- The driver loses consciousness before the collision occurs
- The loss of consciousness is the cause of the accident
Examples of medical conditions that may cause an unforeseeable lack of consciousness include:
- Heart attacks
- Heart strokes
- A sudden blood pressure drop
- Diabetic reactions
- Medication reactions
- A seizure
The burden is on the driver who has a heart attack to show that he/she suffered the heart attack before the accident. It may be that the driver ran through a red light, struck your car, and then suffered the heart attack. In this scenario, the accident victim can recover because the heart attack didn’t cause the lack of consciousness and the loss of consciousness didn’t cause the car accident.
This type of case may come down to a battle of the cardiologists. Determining whether the heart attack happened before the accident or afterward (which came first, the chicken or the egg) will depend on medical reviews, an autopsy if one is done, and the testimony of any witnesses in the same vehicle as the driver who has the heart attack.
Can you recover damages if a defendant can successfully assert the sudden emergency doctrine?
In general, victims of accidents caused by a driver who has a heart attack may be blocked from collecting compensation through the driver’s insurance. If the driver asserts the sudden emergency medical doctrine, then the driver isn’t negligent, after all. Your own insurance company should pay for the costs associated with property damage if you have enough collision insurance, though your premiums may go up because that’s what insurance companies do.
Accident victims can use their own health insurance to pay for any medical expenses, but they can also use their own MedPay insurance. MedPay will only cover you, not anyone else in your car, and you can only collect as much as you have purchased. For example, if you have $10,000 in MedPay coverage, that is all it will pay out. Further, if you do successfully obtain compensation from the other driver, you may have to pay your MedPay back – but at least it will cover you in a pinch.
Does knowledge of a heart condition preclude using the sudden emergency doctrine?
There are some cases where a driver could be held responsible for causing an accident even though the driver has a heart attack. Drivers who have had heart attacks in the past or who have heart disease that has been confirmed by a general physician or a cardiologist normally take medications to treat their condition. If the driver didn’t take the medication he/she was supposed to, the driver may be liable for the accident.
Drivers who experience heart symptoms such as angina, shortness of breath, pain in the center of their chest that feels like someone is squeezing their chest, or other symptoms of heart failure or disease should get off the road as quickly as possible and seek medical help. Drivers who continue driving while they are experiencing symptoms may be liable for any accidents they cause if they suffer a heart attack while driving.
What happens if someone has a heart attack after a wreck?
Whether anyone suffered a heart attack because of the car crash is a different question than whether the heart attack caused the car crash. It’s reasonable to expect that the physical and emotional trauma of an accident could cause drivers, passengers, pedestrians, cyclists, or motorcycle riders to have a heart attack – whether they had a heart condition or not.
If you’re involved in a Chicago car accident, you should go to your local emergency room as soon as possible. In many cases, if you’re experiencing any heart attack symptoms, the police will arrange for emergency medical technicians to examine you at the site of the accident and for medical transport services to move you safely to the nearest emergency room.
Your ER doctors and cardiologists can confirm if you’ve suffered a heart attack or any other type of heart disorder. They can usually verify that the accident caused the heart problems – especially if other causes can be ruled out.
Heart attacks treatments, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:
- Surgeries including stents, angioplasty, and bypass surgery
- Different medications including aspirin, statins, and beta-blockers
- Changes in nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle
While some heart attack victims can resume normal lives with treatment and rehabilitation, many victims have permanent damage. Victims of heart attacks may not be able to work again. They may have a range of physical and emotional difficulties. Victims of heart attacks due to a car accident may not be able to enjoy family and friends, perform many different activities like walking or driving, and may never be the same.
If a car accident causes a heart attack, then victims can hold the negligent drivers (and other responsible defendants) liable for all their:
- Medical expenses
- Lost income
- Pain and suffering
- Car damage
- Loss of consortium
At Gainsberg Law, we handle the difficult cases. We work aggressively to determine who caused your injuries and why they should be held liable. We work with your physicians and independent doctors, when necessary, to show that the accident caused your injuries and just how serious your injuries are. To discuss a heart attack or any injury caused by a Chicago car accident, call Gainsberg Law at 312.600.9585 or fill out our contact form to make an appointment.
Neal S. Gainsberg has spent the last 20 years fighting to protect the rights of the injured in Chicago and throughout Illinois. From consumer rights and bankruptcy to catastrophic injuries and wrongful death, Mr. Gainsberg stands up to large corporations, insurance companies, creditors and hospital administrators to ensure that his clients’ futures are safe and secure. Learn More