Deadly Crash on I-75: Will Sudden Medical Emergency Defense Apply?

Earlier this week, audiences across Florida watched in horror as news channels showed the fiery remains of the vehicles involved in a head-on collision on I-75, near Gainesville, FL. The recent accident involved a semi-tractor trailer suddenly veering sharply left, striking another vehicle, and then both vehicles ending up in oncoming traffic. Colliding with another semi traveling southbound, the semi truck’s diesel fuel leaked, caught fire, and turned the multi-vehicle wreck into an inferno.  Ultimately, this accident would cause the tragic deaths of five children and two adults and leave many others injured, some quite seriously. One quick moment in time put the steps in motion that would leave pains in families and communities that will never fully heal. Time helps one cope with the pain but it never truly leaves. Not entirely. For the victims and their loved ones, the accident, the place, will always bring them a bitter stab of sadness with each time the mind rediscovers the memory. 

The Sudden Medical Emergency Defense

Surely one would imagine the victim’s and their loved ones are going to have a clear case against the at-fault driver that caused the death, injury, and destruction of property. Sadly, as soon as an accident such as this occurs, teams of attorneys and investigators working for big trucking companies and their insurance carriers set to work to limit the liability for the driver’s actions as quickly as possible. One defense that has gained popularity in the trucking industry is that of the sudden medical emergency. Suddenly, the at-fault truck driver in the accident has a defense against plaintiff’s claims of negligence because he was stricken with an episode of severe sneezing. Sudden Medical Emergency definitions differ by State but is defined categorically as an “Act of God” defense. Simply put, an Act of God defense states that the accident was unavoidable for a reasonable person acting in a reasonable manner. There are a myriad of different health problems that could be used in this defense including loss of consciousness, heart attack, epilepsy, seizures, and yes, sudden severe sneezing episodes. The key aspect of the defense is the lead word – “sudden”. The episode must be a sudden event that could not have been foreseeable beforehand. The driver is free from negligence because there was no time for them to affect a response. The defense gets a little tricky with regards to questioning whether the medical event was foreseeable or not. Questions to consider to establish foreseeability:

  • Did the driver know they had a history of sudden, severe sneezing episodes? 
  • Did he/she see their doctor before this regarding the condition?
  • Did the driver have instructions not to drive or to limit their driving in any way (e.g. dawn to dusk, to work and back, etc.)?

If the driver knew of their condition and chose to drive anyway, there is negligence involved as the event is deemed as having been able to be foreseeable by a reasonable person and the driver could have taken steps to prevent the accident i.e. not driving. This helps to put the liability back on the truck driver/company. 

Establishing Liabilities

Steve Holland has been identified as the driver of the semi-truck that caused the fatal accident on I-75. Mr. Holland, who also died in the crash, was shown to have received numerous speeding and unsafe driving citations over the years in states across the U.S. Investigators are looking at Holland’s actions on the day of the accident to see if speeding, reckless, and/or dangerous driving played a role in causing the chain reaction. The Florida Department of Transportation(FDOT) is also investigating whether the guard rail that keeps opposing traffic separated failed prematurely. These rails are manufactured by a third party and then the installation/construction project is awarded based on procurement protocols of the FDOT. Liability may exist for the manufacturer or installer if there is found to have been a defect in either.

If you’re injured in a case like this, you should first call authorities and seek medical attention. If you’re physically able and it’s safe to do so, take pictures at the scene of the accident and obtain statements from witnesses around you. Be sure to collect their name, address, and contact information. You should also contact your insurance company and report the accident. If you’re unsure about your rights or have questions about what comes next when something like this happens, use the contact us link or start a chat session on our website. It’s 2:23AM on a Sunday and you have questions? Yeah, we’re here and available any other time you need us – 24/7, 365.

Wondering about the next steps in your case? 

Each case Farah and Farah takes on is different, but our approach remains the same. Since trucking accidents fall under their own laws and regulations, for each case we assign the most-qualified lineup of investigators, attorneys, and subject matter experts with the appropriate knowledge and experience to handle the unique aspects of that case. Our team has to be able to dissect even the minutest details involved in a trucking accident case and pour over every second that led up to the crash to understand what happened and to hold those at-fault accountable. Our team has decades of experience in the specific practice area of trucking and transit law. We believe the victims and their loved ones deserve our very best efforts because they deserve to be able to attain some measure of peace. This comes from insuring (yes, financially insuring) their everyday needs are met and working to make them as whole as possible. If you or a loved one would like to talk to one of our experienced attorneys about your case, please contact us here. We’ll gladly provide a free case evaluation, talk about your options, walk you through the process, and answer any questions you may have. Our process is aimed at taking the stress from your shoulders so you can focus on recovering. 

1/14/2019 1:14pm

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