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A personal health crisis can happen anywhere at any time. Some occur without warning, while others may offer a person time to call for help. The last thing you expect to experience is a sudden medical emergency while you’re driving your car. When it happens, you may not have the ability to safely bring your vehicle to a stop. In fact, you may not even be conscious.

In Georgia, the law is pretty clear when it comes to liability for auto accidents caused by a health crisis. However, the circumstances behind all medical emergencies are not created equal, which may still give an injured victim a valid negligence claim against the at-fault driver.

Sudden medical emergencies

Georgia courts subscribe to the “Act of God” defense under O.C.G.A. § 1-3-3 (3) when it comes to assigning liability for car crashes caused by a sudden medical emergency. A sudden medical emergency is an unforeseeable medical issue outside the control of the affected driver. It requires that the:

  • Driver loses consciousness immediately before the wreck
  • Loss of consciousness caused them to lose control of the vehicle
  • Driver had no time to react and prevent or reduce the severity of the crash

In Freeman v. Martin, 156 S.E.2d 511 (Ga. App. 1968), the court made it clear that a driver who is suddenly stricken by a fainting spell, or loses consciousness due to some unforeseen reason, will not be held liable for negligence.

The sudden medical emergency defense won’t always work

However, if a driver feels any symptoms coming on just prior to the crash, the Act of God defense may not apply the driver should have pulled over at the onset of the symptoms.

Georgia law also requires that the driver who chooses to use that defense has to prove each element in order to succeed. How do you prove that you didn’t have symptoms that would have told you to pull over before passing out? It’s not an easy burden to overcome.

Chronic health problems can lead to medical emergencies

Did you know that diabetes causes 20% of vehicle accidents resulting from a medical event. Warning signs that you need emergency treatment for diabetic ketoacidosis are noticeable, and include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Fruity-scented breath

Other previously diagnosed medical conditions that can lead to a wreck include:

  • Chronic blackouts. These may not be viewed as sudden medical emergencies when you have a history of random loss of consciousness.
  • Neurological conditions. Diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease or Multiple Sclerosis that attack your nervous system will affect your ability to react on the roadways.
  • Undergoing certain medical treatments. Going through chemotherapy or taking particular medications (especially prescription opioids) will affect your ability to drive safely and are often given as warnings on prescription labels or by treating physicians.
  • Epilepsy. This condition can make you more vulnerable to causing a crash due to the risk of seizures.

In some cases, the Act of God defense may not apply in Georgia if you suffer from one of these conditions; it depends on the circumstances of your case.

Epilepsy is an anomaly

Georgia has very specific laws when it comes to addressing drivers with epilepsy. Liability may be based on whether the driver:

  • Has a history of epileptic events or other seizures
  • Was under a doctor’s care for epilepsy
  • Was seizure-free for at least six months prior to the collision

No one wants to experience a medical emergency such as a heart attack, especially while driving. The fact is that there are certain health events that just can’t be predicted and are nobody’s fault. That said, there are other medical conditions and disabilities that can restrict an individual’s ability to drive. If those drivers choose to get out on the road knowing they aren’t able to drive properly and are putting others at risk, they’re behaving negligently and should be held accountable for any damage or injuries they cause in the process.

The Georgia car accident attorneys at Harris Lowry Manton LLP know that there is no excuse for placing you, your family or loved ones in harm’s way. If you have been injured in a collision, schedule your free case evaluation by calling our Savannah office at 912-417-3774, our Atlanta office at 404-998-8847, or by reaching out to us through our contact page to tell us your story.


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