If you are involved in a car accident in Maryland in which you are rear ended, it may seem like it's a clear cut case. Someone who rear ends you and causes you injuries should be liable to you for damages. And normally, that's true. But there's one special circumstance where that may not be so true, and where you, as an injured victim, may have a special burden to prove.
The Sudden Incapacity Defense
In Maryland, if someone loses control of their vehicle by what is known as "sudden incapacity," they may not be liable to you for your injuries, even though the accident was their fault. Sudden incapacity has been described by Maryland courts as "suddenly and unforeseeably" being incapacitated.
The logic is obvious--that a driver shouldn't be responsible for an accident when he wasn't conscious and couldn't control his own actions. A negligent party must be able to comprehend his own actions.
The key is the second word--"unforeseeably." The defense does not apply and cannot be used to avoid liability by a driver when the driver has reason to know that he could black out or lose consciousness. Some examples may be:
● Drivers who are prone to seizures and are unmedicated;
● Drivers who are on medication that may make them woozy or unaware of their surroundings; or
● Drivers who may have suffered a blackout or similar condition in the recent past.
The question of whether a blackout or loss of consciousness was foreseeable is one for a jury. For example, someone who had a heart attack 3 years ago may not be on notice that they could have another one at any time. But someone who recently had a doctor tell them they could have a heart attack at any time could be held responsible for an accident caused due to lack of capacity.
Maryland is not alone; other states have similar laws that will excuse a driver from negligence due to sudden incapacity.
Using and Defeating the Defense
If the defense is used, it is the defendant's burden to prove that they were incapacitated and that the incapacity was unforeseeable.
As you may imagine, proving the defense may often rely on expert medical testimony. Some conditions may make a driver more opt to blackout than others, and that takes a doctor to testify to.
A driver who uses this defense obviously puts his or her medical history into question, and a good accident attorney should take every step to acquire these records. Because of the sensitive nature of medical records, many defendants may opt not to use the defense. But if it's used, discovering medical records that show that a driver has blacked out in the past is a "smoking gun," which will often defeat the defense very quickly.
Sudden incapacity is one of the rare instances where the presumption of negligence that lies against people who rear end other drivers may not apply. A good personal injury attorney needs to look out for defendants who may want to use it.
If you've suffered an injury of any severity in Maryland, and you think it may be due to the negligence of another, you need an attorney that's ready for any defense. Contact the attorneys of Brassel, Alexander & Rice, LLC today for a free consultation to discuss your rights.