Epilepsy affects approximately 260,000 people in Canada and approximately 65 million people worldwide. Epilepsy is a condition characterized by sudden changes in how the brain works and reveals itself in the form of seizures. Seizures, which are caused by bursts of electrical activity in the brain, often affect muscle control, movement, speech, vision or awareness.
The majority of individuals who live with epilepsy live completely normal lives. This includes driving. In Alberta, drivers are required by law to report any health condition that may affect their ability to drive, including epilepsy or a seizure disorder. Although driving privileges may be suspended for a period of time, in most cases once an individual has been seizure free for six months and has received a positive recommendation from their doctor their driver’s license will be reinstated.
The question is what happens if a motorist fails to follow his/her doctor’s medical advice and take prescribed medication. In these circumstances, can a motorist be held liable for a seizure-related car accident.
This question was recently answered by the British Columbia Supreme Court in the case of Goronzy v. McDonald. The Court ruled that a driver was solely liable and negligent for a multi-vehicle accident due to a seizure as a result of failing to take his prescribed medication.
GORONZY v. MCDONALD
On March 29, 2014, Daryl James McDonald (“McDonald”) was driving northbound across the Patullo Bridge in New Westminster, B.C. McDonald, who suffers from epilepsy, suffered a grand mal seizure and crossed through the yellow plastic pylons that separated the north and southbound lanes and struck a taxi. The taxi spun counter-clockwise and was struck in the rear by a Chevrolet pick-up truck.
The driver of the taxi, Rashpal Singh Rai (“Rai”), suffered a head injury. The passenger in the taxi, Christopher Tesar (“Tesar”), is now a paraplegic. Both Rai and Tesar were not wearing their seat belts at the time of the accident. The passenger in the McDonald vehicle, Stephen Alexander Goronzy, suffered a number of significant injuries. The driver of the pick-up truck, Sandra Mary McComb, and her passenger, Alia Lecoin, suffered relatively minor injuries.
All injured parties sued McDonald alleging that he failed to take his medication contrary to medical advice and should not have been driving and he should have foreseen the possibility of a grand mal seizure.
In finding McDonald liable for the crash, Madam Justice Humphries stated in her decision:
There is no question that Mr. McDonald was negligent and is at fault for the collisions. He knew he should be taking his medication. He was warned that he should not be driving if he was not fully compliant with his medication. Yet he drove, particularly on a day when he had already had a focal seizure. It seemed during his testimony that Mr. McDonald was not overly concerned with the accident; it was the effect of the accident on his appreciation of the seriousness of his condition that pre-occupied him. …
Had he been compliant with his medication, it is unlikely that he would have had the grand mal seizure. In fact, Dr. Woolfenden was prepared to go further and say he would have had such a seizure, had he been properly medicated. The accident would not have occurred.
DANGERS OF DRIVING WITH EPILEPSY OR SEIZURE DISORDERS
An epileptic incident may occur at any time. Some of the symptoms that may impair one’s ability to drive safely in the moments leading up to and during a seizure include:
- Seizure-induced confusion;
- Loss of consciousness;
- Uncontrollable body jerking;
- Cognitive impairment;
- Feeling “spaced out” or staring spells;
- Headaches; temporary paralysis after a seizure;
- Memory lapses; and/or
- Temporary loss of bowel control.
WHEN INDIVIDUALS WHO SUFFER FROM SEIZURES MAY BE LIABLE FOR A CRASH
Although an individual who has a seizure may lose control of his/her vehicle and cause an accident, this does not necessarily mean that he/she will be held legally responsible for the accident. There are a number of factors that may affect how liability is determined.
- Did the individual have a history of epileptic events or other seizures?
- Was the individual under the care of a doctor for epilepsy or seizure activity?
- Had the individual been seizure-free for six months or more?
- Was the individual prescribed anti-seizure medication and was the individual taking the prescribed medication as directed by a health profession?
In general, if the seizure was a determining factor involved in the collision, the individual with the medical condition may be found to have some amount of fault for the accident. However, if the individual had never been diagnosed with epilepsy or suffered a seizure in the past, he/she would have no reason to believe this would be a risk factor. All of these factors must be considered in determining who is liable for the injuries and damages resulting from the accident and each situation will be determined on a case by case basis depending on the individual circumstances.
CONTACT A MOTOR VEHICLE ACCIDENT LAWYER FROM CUMING & GILLESPIE LAWYERS TODAY
The dedicated personal injury lawyers at Cuming & Gillespie Lawyers are experienced at handling complex car accident cases. If you were involved in an accident with someone who was having a seizure, our knowledgeable lawyers can explain your rights. If you have suffered injuries and damages, you may be owed compensation. Please contact our experienced and award-winning personal injury lawyers for your free case evaluation online or at 403-571-0555 to determine how we can help you recover compensation for your injuries.