In an auto accident civil case resolved recently, a driver had a seizure and collided with another car. As a result of this car crash, a 47-year-old-man incurred a spinal cord injury at T9-10 that caused paraplegia.
The central issue in this auto accident case was determining liability for the accident.
- The defense attorney argued that the crash resulted when the defendant had a sudden and unexpected seizure.
- The plaintiff’s attorney countered that the seizure was not unexpected because the defendant had a history of a brain tumor and resection surgery.
- The defense attorney then pointed out that the defendant had been seizure-free for more than a year prior to the accident. The defense attorney also called attention to a medical clearance to drive from defendant’s neurologist.
- The plaintiff’s attorney called attention to the defendant’s post-surgery encephalomalacia, (a particular softening or loss of brain tissue) which carries a risk of seizures.
The plaintiff’s attorney was planning to introduce information gleaned from multiple focus groups discussing liability.
The plaintiff claimed $1,401,533 in medical expenses, $1,478,634 in past and future lost wages, and a life care plan requiring between $4 million and $6 million. The case was settled out of court, with a total settlement awarded to the plaintiff of $15 million.
Seizures, Driving, and Liability
Clearly, suffering a seizure while driving presents serious danger for everyone on the road. Any loss of consciousness while driving puts the driver and the public at risk. The anticonvulsive medications used to treat people who have suffered seizures, often cause side effects. Among the side effects is drowsiness.
How many people are involved in an accident because they have a seizure while driving? The answer is uncertain. Several studies have been conducted over the years. The methodologies used in these studies were inconsistent. As a result, it is believed (but not objectively known) that persons who have seizures are more likely than others to be involved in a crash. The disparity among the reports of the studies has led to various estimates of the likelihood of being involved in a crash. These estimates range from less than one percent to as much as seven percent.
Throughout the world, people suffering seizures or other sudden loss of consciousness have been restricted from driving motor vehicles. M
In the U.S. most states, however, have set criteria under which these persons may have their driver’s license restored. The criteria to be met vary from one state to another, ranging from three to six months (up to 5 years in some cases) without a seizure or loss of consciousness.
Virginia Law in this matter is found in Virginia Code §46.2-322 and Virginia Code Ann. §46.1 – 437. The law provides:
- The “Department of Motor Vehicles will not issue a driver’s license to a person with a physical or mental disability, which, in the opinion of the Department, will prevent him or her from exercising reasonable and ordinary control over a motor vehicle.”
- In making these determinations and in assessing appeals, medical information is submitted to the Medical Advisory Board.
- The law provides that a person who suffers seizures or blackouts “must be seizure-free or blackout-free for at least 6 months to regain proper control before driving.”
- A person with a history of seizures or blackouts “must submit a medical report completed by the individual and his or her physician prior to being issued a driver’s license.” This information is reviewed and a decision is made to issue or deny a license to the driver either with or without restrictions.
- Those whose license has been revoked or restricted may make an appeal to the Medical Advisory Board.
- Those issued a license may be required “to submit periodic medical and/or vision reports every three, six, twelve or 24 months.”
- Consistent with the medical standards of the federal Department of Transportation, commercial licenses are not issued for persons with epilepsy.
- Doctors are not required to report epilepsy, other seizure conditions or other blackout conditions to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Drivers with these conditions must report the condition to the DMV.
Some reported studies have found that in states requiring drivers to report their own condition, only about 1/3 of licensed drivers comply with the requirement.
This case ended with a very large settlement of $15 million to the plaintiff. This particular case underscores the importance of reporting a condition to the DMV and relinquishing one’s driver’s license if appropriate. In this case a driver had a seizure that caused an auto accident and severely harmed the driver of the other vehicle. The defendant was held to be liable for the crash.
Auto accidents occur for a variety of reasons. Some accidents, like this case, involve complex legal issues. If you or a loved one has been injured in an auto accident through no fault of your own, Altizer Law, P.C. is here to help you understand the complexities of accident. Bettina Altizer brings to each auto accident case twenty-five years of experience and a fierce commitment to obtaining justice and an appropriate settlement or judgement for their hurts and harms.