Crashes and “Medical Episodes”: Who Is Accountable to Victims?

After a shuttle bus crashed into Houston’s Texas Medical Center last week, police announced that the accident may have happened because the driver suffered a “medical episode.” One woman died and 11 other people suffered injuries, raising questions about who bears liability when a medical problem plays a role in a crash.

Houston police officials said that a 54-year-old man lost control of the shuttle bus after what some witnesses described as a loss of consciousness. Considering the amount of time that many Texans spend driving, it is perhaps surprising that pedestrian accidents involving medical problems like this do not happen more often.

In most traffic accident lawsuits, a primary question involves who did something wrong to cause the accident. So what happens when something beyond the driver’s control causes a fatal crash?

The answer in most cases probably depends on a number of factors. For example, if the driver has a history of medical issues or has a diagnosis that warns of potential problems, then he or she might be liable for choosing to drive in the first place. One common scenario involves Texans who have experienced epilepsy in the past – it may be unreasonably dangerous for them to get behind the wheel in the future, depending on a medical professional’s advice.

A second important fact might involve the bus company’s employment policies. Numerous, complex requirements apply to motor vehicle transportation companies, including laws and regulations from both state and federal authorities. If one of these rules tells bus companies to require their drivers to receive regular medical check-ups, a lawsuit would have to look at whether the company did enough to meet that obligation.

In short, the answer is that cases like this are never straightforward. While the simple fact that a medical condition played a role in a crash does not mean that compensation is unavailable, a complex set of factors will affect the outcome. Victims’ families should consult with an experienced Texas wrongful death lawyer to discuss their options.

Source: Houston Chronicle, “Van driver in TMC crash lost control due to medical condition, police say,” Carol Christian, Nov. 29, 2012