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Determining Liability for a Collision Caused by a Driver with a Health Condition


In December of 2011, a Los Angeles, California sheriff’s deputy blacked out while driving his SUV and drove his car into a Starbucks, causing the death of an Iraq war veteran. Several months later, a local news story indicated that the man still had his driver’s license.

“Given that the DMV is legally authorized to suspend the licenses of drivers with health conditions that compromise their ability to operate a motor vehicle, it is surprising this man still had his license,” commented California personal injury attorney James Ballidis.

In Los Angeles, California, a sheriff’s deputy named Michael Cedarland had a seizure last May while working at a detention center. According to coworkers, the man was catatonic as a result of the seizure. Following the incident, his driver’s license was suspended per DMV procedure.

In November, Cedarland’s family doctor cleared him to drive his vehicle. Based on that report from the physician, Cedarland’s driver’s license was restored. Unfortunately, approximately six weeks later, Cedarland was driving his SUV through Fillmore at approximately 70 mph when he lost consciousness again.

This time, Cedarland’s SUV drifted across a lane of oncoming traffic, jumped a sidewalk, careened through a parking lot and crashed through the wall of a Starbucks. Two customers were injured as the vehicle sped through the coffee shop, and the vehicle then pinned Sergio Mendez, a 30-year-old Marine and Iraq war veteran, against the wall. Mendez died several hours later as a result of internal injuries sustained during the incident. Cedarland was tested at the time to determine if he was intoxicated, and no evidence of any drugs was found in his system. It was later determined that he had suffered a seizure at the time of the crash.

Despite California laws authorizing the DMV to suspend the driver’s licenses of people with medical conditions that impair their ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, Cedarland’s license was still not suspended several months after the accident, nor was it suspended after Cedarland suffered another seizure less than three weeks later when he was in his home. This subsequent seizure was reported to have been a grand mal seizure and Cedarland was formally diagnosed with epilepsy at the hospital at this time.

Although laws exist in California with which to hold drivers accountable for negligent acts that cause harm to others, determining liability for collisions caused by drivers suffering from medical episodes can be difficult, as such drivers may not necessarily have been engaging in negligent or unsafe actions. However, when a person has suffered medical episodes in the past that impair driving ability, thereby endangering others, his or her decision to continue driving could be seen as negligent, and a case for liability could be made in the event that an accident occurred.

Additional information on this and other issues concerning personal injury law, including books and articles on the injury and the wrongful death claims process, is available to the public free of charge.

If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to speak with a California personal injury attorney, feel free to call 866-981-5596.

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