Driver may be liable for injuries if his unconsciousness was foreseeable

A driver of a motor vehicle has the duty to exercise reasonable care and this duty includes keeping the vehicle under control at all times. However, what if a driver causes personal injuries to others because of unconsciousness? Can the innocent victims of such an accident still recover from the driver for his or her negligence?

In such a situation, the case may turn on whether the loss of consciousness was "foreseeable"-that is, whether the driver who caused the accident should have known he of she might lose consciousness. The Minnesota Court of Appeals case of Kellogg v. Finnegan provides an example of a case that turned on this issue.

Having a seizure. . . or falling asleep?

The victim was driving eastbound on Valley Creek Road in Woodbury when the defendant driver's vehicle jumped the median and struck the victim's vehicle. The defendant's vehicle then ricocheted from the collision and traveled forward until coming to a stop upon hitting a tree.

The victim saw the defendant fall over toward the passenger's side just before the vehicle stopped. When medical personnel arrived, the defendant appeared confused but had regained consciousness, and told a paramedic that he had fallen asleep. Witnesses on the scene said it appeared the defendant had suffered a seizure.

The defendant had never had a seizure prior to the collision, although since the accident, he had been diagnosed with brain atrophy and had two seizures. The defendant had also previously fallen asleep while driving several years earlier. In that instance, the defendant had been driving for 12 hours before he fell asleep.

The district court held that the defendant's loss of consciousness was due to a seizure and, under these circumstances, was unforeseeable. The district court thus entered a summary judgment in the defendant's favor before even allowing the victim his day in court before a jury. The victim appealed.

Falling asleep was foreseeable

The Court of Appeals did agree with the lower court that, if the defendant's unconsciousness was caused by a seizure, it was unforeseeable under the circumstances since it was unrelated to any prior symptoms. However, the court record did not support the district court's additional determination that a person of ordinary prudence could not reasonably foresee the risk of falling asleep.

In fact, there was evidence indicating the defendant might have fallen asleep, including the defendant having told a paramedic that was the case. At the time of the collision, the defendant was suffering from chronic sleep deprivation and had obtained prescription medication for it. Although the defendant knew he was at risk for drowsiness with the medications, he used alcohol and did not take the medication as prescribed.

All of this indicated a claim that should be presented to a jury-that is, that the defendant might have fallen asleep and that the resulting car accident was foreseeable. Thus, the circumstances precluded a summary judgment that would have denied the victim the opportunity to present his claim to a jury.

Seeking the compensation you deserve

Car accidents are often complicated and proving that the other driver was responsible for your injuries may require investigation, and perhaps even the use of accident investigators, reconstruction experts or medical experts. Whether the other driver is alleging an unforeseen medical condition, or you are simply facing an insurance company using "deny-delay-defend" tactics, you should seek an experienced personal injury attorney with the determination to fight for the full compensation you deserve for your injuries.