Medical condition as a cause of an accident

In some cases drivers will argue that they are not at fault for causing an accident because they were overcome with an unexpected medical condition at the time the accident occurred. Courts are generally reluctant to excuse defendants in such conditions and place a heavy onus on drivers to anticipate medical conditions that might interfere with their driving.


In Johnson v. Carter, 2007 BCSC 622 the defendant driver veered into the oncoming lane and collided with an oncoming vehicle, killing a passenger in that vehicle. The defendant was a diabetic and said that at the time of the accident he was not consciously in control of his vehicle due to hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). The court held that the defendant driver had the means to monitor his blood sugar and that he failed to take the necessary precautions to avoid the possibility of falling into a condition of hypoglycemia unawareness, and ultimately a hypoglycemic reaction resulting in unconsciousness.


In Barron v. Barron, 2003 NSSC 90 the plaintiff was injured when the vehicle she was a passenger in went off the road and into a ditch. The defendant driver argued that he was not negligent but that he had choked on coffee he was drinking and that he had blacked out. The defendant had a history of choking and suffering lightheadedness from coughing while drinking coffee and although he had never passed out on previous occasions the court held that blacking out was foreseeable as a natural progression from the previous incidents of lightheadedness from coughing.


In Codner v. Gosse, 2003 NLSCTD 74 the defendant rear ended the plaintiff, but claimed he had a blackout and was not responsible for the collision. The defendant had suffered several medical complications arising from diabetes but had never experienced blackouts before the collision. Shortly before the accident he had been visiting his terminally ill brother and remembered his eyes filling with tears and experiencing shortness of breath shortly before the collision. He was taken to the hospital immediately following the collision but his blood-sugar was normal and there was no evidence of a stroke or seizure. The court found the defendant liable on the grounds that he was distracted by his problems, was not paying proper attention to driving his vehicle, and should not have been driving his vehicle in the circumstances.


In Whitmore v. Arens, 1999 CanLII 7028 (BCSC) the plaintiff was stopped in a left turn lane when his vehicle was struck head on by an oncoming vehicle. The defendant argued that the accident was inevitable because he suffered a seizure of which he had no prior notice and which rendered him incapable of proper control of the vehicle. The court rejected that argument for a variety of reasons, including credibility issues surrounding the testimony of the defendant and his wife, and that the expert evidence did not show that the defendant was, at the material time, overcome by a physical condition which rendered him incapable of proper control of the vehicle.


In Perry v. Banno (1993), 80 BCLR (2d) 351 the plaintiff was injured when the defendant reportedly lost consciousness and his vehicle crossed the centerline and collided with an oncoming vehicle. There was no evidence that the defendant's head slumped or that he exhibited any outward signs of loss of consciousness, but his wife who was a passenger at the time said that he was unresponsive to her warnings and failed to brake or other attempt to steer away from the imminent collision. No medical cause for the loss of consciousness was identified and there was medical evidence that people do not suddenly lose consciousness without warning and without explanation. The court considered that the accident may have happened due to simple driver inattention and found that the defendant had not provided sufficient evidence to establish that he lost consciousness or that the accident occurred without negligence on his part.



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