If a driver in Idaho faints while driving, is he liable for any resulting damage or injuries?

By Joseph G. Ballstaedt

What if an Idaho driver suddenly loses consciousness or experiences a completely debilitating medical condition–such as a heart attack, a stroke, or a seizure–and this condition leads to a car accident? Is the driver liable for resulting damages and injuries?

Under Idaho law, a person is negligent and responsible for any harm he causes if he does not use ordinary care in keeping others and their property safe. In making this determination, one must simply ask, how would a reasonably careful person act under the circumstances? Answering this question can be a little tricky when a car accident occurs after a sudden and debilitating illness. The law of negligence only holds people accountable for foreseeable injuries, and a reasonably careful person cannot foresee every harm he might cause. For example, if a driver has never had a seizure or experienced symptoms that might lead to a seizure, but one day crashes due to a sudden and unexpected seizure, he probably didn’t act negligently and therefore won’t be held liable for any damages. On the other hand, if he had seizures in the past or had reason to believe he might have a seizure in the future, he might be held responsible.

One way to view the above example is that the diver’s seizure was an act of God, not an act of his own making. An act of God generally relieves a person from negligence liability. Idaho case law explains that acts of God are “the direct, immediate, and exclusive operation of the forces of nature, uncontrolled or uninfluenced by the power of man and without human intervention” and cannot be prevented “by any reasonable degree of care or diligence.” Willson v. Boise City, 20 Idaho 133, 139, 117 P. 115, 116-17 (1911). Also, an act of God results from the force of nature alone and is not caused by human agency. Curtis v. Dewey, 93 Idaho 847, 849, 475 P.2d 808, 810 (1970). Idaho law does not clearly include unexpected illnesses or medical conditions as part of the definition of an act of God, but these types of conditions may very well fall within this definition. Referencing our above example again, although a person chooses to drive a car, a seizure may be considered a force of nature and completely beyond that person’s ability to choose.

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