In traffic accident lawsuits, there is a defense that relies on the “sudden emergency doctrine.” It is a legal theory that recognizes those who are facing a sudden emergency should not be held to the same standard of care as someone who acts without the time pressure of an immediate emergency.
This sudden emergency doctrine includes medical events. The 1955 Florida Supreme Court case of Bridges v. Spear established the “sudden and unexpected loss of capacity” defense for when the operator of an automobile loses consciousness or becomes incapacitated. Those individuals aren’t typically negligent. However, they do need to show (per the 2010 state appellate court case of Abreu v. F.E. Dev. Recycling, Inc.,) that the loss of consciousness occurred before the negligent conduct, that it was sudden and that it was not foreseen/ foreseeable.
In a recent case out of Maryland, officials are trying to determine whether a bus driver who reportedly caused a bus accident that killed six people (including himself) and injured a dozen more may have suffered a medical emergency shortly before the collision. If that is the case, the question of foreseeability would almost certainly be raised as The Baltimore Sun reports the man told police following a crash two years ago that he was taking seizure medication.
Federal investigators have launched an investigation, as have local police. Preliminary analysis is that the school bus driver, with an aide aboard, was en route to pick up the first students that morning at around 6:30. For reasons unclear, the bus driver struck a passenger vehicle and then continued on another block before slamming into a metro bus. Both bus drivers and four metro bus passengers were killed.
There was no indication the bus driver applied the brakes prior to the crash, and it is believed he was speeding. The bus itself has passed mechanical inspections.
The school district ended the six-year contract it held with the busing contractor for whom the driver worked after it was revealed the driver had actually lost his commercial license because he had failed to produce records proving his physical fitness.
An analysis into his prior driving record showed a troubling history. Two years ago, he was reportedly involved in a collision while driving his personal vehicle. In that instance, with his wife as a passenger, he crossed the median into oncoming traffic, struck a guardrail, barreled over another median and then struck a cluster of trees. His wife disclosed to the investigating officer that he was taking medication for seizures. The accident report cited the driver’s “medical condition.”
Before that, he was sued in 2007 for $300,000 when another driver accused him of making a left turn in front of him. That case was later settled out-of-court. He lost another civil case for hitting a parked car in 2008. He also pleaded guilty in 2014 to failure to show a registration card and the following year for driving with a suspended registration. He also had $150 in unpaid traffic tickets from last year.
As personal injury lawyers, based on the facts we know so far, it seems there may be ample grounds to assert negligence claims against multiple entities, including:
- The school district;
- The bus company contractor;
- The estate of the driver.
Although school buses tend to be a relatively safe mode of travel, this kind of lack of oversight can lead to a serious risk of injury and, as we saw here, even death.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
School bus driver involved in crash took seizure medication; investigators rule out mechanical failure, Nov. 4, 2016, By Tim Prudente, The Baltimore Sun
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$35M Wrongful Death Verdict in Trucking Accident Lawsuit, Oct. 3, 2016, Miami Wrongful Death Attorney Blog