§49.12 Sudden Loss of Consciousness or Physical Capacity

The Case: McCall v. Wilder , 913 S.W.2d 150 (Tenn. 1995).

The Basic Facts: This action arises out of personal injuries in a car accident. On appeal, the Supreme Court considered "whether, and under what circumstances, the driver of a motor vehicle who suddenly loses control of the vehicle because of physical incapacitation caused by a known medical condition may be liable for personal injury or property damages." 913 S.W.2d at 151-52.

The Bottom Line:

  • "Our careful consideration of the jurisprudence of other jurisdictions and our own leads us to adopt the following rule: A sudden loss of consciousness or physical capacity experienced while driving which is not reasonably foreseeable is a defense to a negligence action. To constitute a defense, defendant must establish that the sudden loss of consciousness or physical capacity to control the vehicle was not reasonably foreseeable to 156 a prudent person. As a result, the defense is not available under circumstances in which defendant was made aware of facts sufficient to lead a reasonably prudent person to anticipate that driving in that condition would likely result in an accident." Id. at 155-56.

  • "In determining whether the loss of capacity or consciousness was foreseeable, pertinent, nonexclusive considerations would include: the extent of the driver's awareness or knowledge of the condition that caused the sudden incapacity; whether the driver had sought medical advice or was under a physician's care for the condition when the accident occurred; whether the driver had been prescribed, and had taken, medication for the condition; whether a sudden incapacity had previously occurred while driving; the number, frequency, extent, and duration of incapacitating episodes prior to the accident while driving and otherwise; the temporal relationship of the prior incapacitating episodes to the accident; a physician's guidance or advice regarding driving to the driver, if any; and medical opinions regarding the nature of the driver's condition, adherence to treatment, foreseeability of the incapacitation, and potential advance warnings which the driver would have experienced immediately prior to the accident. These factors, and any other relevant ones under the circumstances, would tend to establish whether the duty to exercise reasonable care was breached." Id. at 156.

  • "We agree with the Court of Appeals' reluctance to adopt a rule that would exclude individuals who had once suffered an incapacitating episode from ever driving again. Nonetheless, we can envision without much difficulty situations in which driving at all might constitute negligence. One who is ill or incapacitated at times may be negligent in driving at all when he or she is aware that a sudden incapacitation could likely occur at any moment. [RESTATEMENT (SECOND) OF TORTS], § 283C, comment c (1965)."FN2
    FN2 '[A]n automobile driver who suddenly and quite unexpectedly suffers a heart attack does not become negligent when [the driver] loses control of [the] car and drives it in a manner which would otherwise be unreasonable; but one who knows that he [or she] is subject to such attacks may be negligent in driving at all.' [RESTATEMENT OF TORTS], § 283C, comment c (1965).
    Id .

Recent Cases:  Smith v. General Tire, No. M2012-01446-COA-R3-CV, 2013 WL 2395047 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 30, 2013) (affirming summary judgment for defendant where defendant was diagnosed with diabetes 30 years before accident, took medication, and had never lost consciousness before).

After an accident, many injury victims and their families want more information on the accident and their legal rights. Consequently, many of them have found their way to these pages. While we are happy you are here, please understand Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law was written to be a quick, invaluable reference for Tennessee tort lawyers. While the book provides the leading case for more than 300 tort law subjects and thousands of related case citations, it is not a substitute for personalized legal advice from a qualified lawyer.

Rather than researching these legal issues alone, we urge you to contact one of our award-winning lawyers who can sit down with you, review your case, answer your questions and clearly explain your rights and your options in a no-cost, no-obligation consultation. Our experienced attorneys handle all personal injury and wrongful death cases on a contingency basis, so we only get paid if we win. If for any reason you are unable to come to our office, we will gladly come to you.

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The foregoing is an excerpt from Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law, published by John A. Day, Civil Trial Specialist, Fellow in the American College of Trial Lawyers, recipient of Best Lawyers in America recognition, Martindale-Hubbell AV® Preeminent™ rated attorney, and Top 100 Tennessee Mid-South Super Lawyers designee. Read John’s full bio here.

To order a copy of the book, visit www.dayontortsbook.com. John also blogs regularly on key issues for tort lawyers. To subscribe to the Day on Torts blog, visit www.dayontorts.com.

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