The “Medical Emergency Defense” in Florida | Sudden Emergency Doctrine


Every day in our country we see vehicles smash through public restaurant buildings, run off the roadway straight into oncoming traffic, and even plow through homes coming to a complete stop inside someone’s living room. 

Not surprisingly, these accidents can cause thousands to millions of dollars in property damages and injuries. In very devastating cases, these incidents can even result in death in their aftermath. One would think that these types of accidents would be classified as a classic example of negligence, leaving the distressed parties (individuals and insurance companies involved) to recover from the at-fault driver. However, depending on the situation at hand, that is not always the case. 

Florida, along with other states provide those who suddenly “lose control” of their vehicle due to an “Act of God” or “sudden medical emergency” a pretty strong defense. 

As a result, recovering from drivers and holding them liable for their actions which such defenses is not always an easy task. 

Defendant drivers often attribute these devastating accidents to “medical emergencies” or complications such as seizures, heart attacks, diabetic episodes, allergic reactions, mental delusions, and the list goes on. 

If you or a loved one are ever in a collision or have one of these terrible unexpected accidents cause injuries or damages to your property, we recommend that you contact an attorney immediately to help get you the compensation you need for your damages, injuries, and pain and suffering. 

However, if the defendant driver claims a medical emergency defense, it is important to have a good lawyer on your side who can fight back against this defense that may arise in your case. 

Our attorneys at Pipas Law have handled several cases where this defense has arisen, where we have been able to dig deep into the facts and medical records to make sure that our clients get compensated for the damages and injuries. 

What is the Sudden Emergency Doctrine?

In context with auto accident or personal injury cases, the “Sudden Emergency Doctrine” is an affirmative defense that may come up in either a minor or devastating case that declares the person being sued or accused of liability for damages or injuries (the defendant) encountered an unexpected situation out of their control and he or she need only act as a reasonable person would in that situation.

The Sudden Emergency Doctrine in Florida states:

The courts have been compelled to recognize that an actor who is confronted with an emergency is not to be held to the standard of conduct normally applied to one who is in no such situation.

A defendant claiming a “sudden emergency” defense generally must prove:

  1. A sudden, unexpected situation arose
  2. The unexpected situation was not of the defendants own making, and
  3. The defendant acted as a reasonable person would during the course of the sudden, unexpected situation

If the defendant is unable to prove the above three elements, he or she will probably not be able to rely on this defense in the case and may still be held liable for the resulting damages of the underlying accident. 

What does the Sudden Emergency Doctrine mean? 

In layman’s terms, under the Sudden Emergency Doctrine, a person who is confronted with unexpected danger, an emergency, is not held to the same standard of care as a person who has time to think about their actions. And they are expected only to act under that conduct that a person in that same situation would act.

This “emergency doctrine” is part of general negligence law, but it is utilized most frequently in motor vehicle accidents and personal injury cases. 

What is the Normal Standard of Care?

The law requires that a person must act with a certain amount of care that a “reasonable” person would act in a similar situation. 

What would a reasonable person of ordinary prudence do under the same set of circumstances? Well, in the state of an emergency or unexpected danger, a reason-able person may not be able to reason as they otherwise would when in a state of danger or crisis situation. 

When talking about car accidents under the Sudden Emergency Doctrine, whether a person acted reasonably can also depend on whether that person owed the injured person in that situation a duty of care. 

For example, an at-fault driver in an auto accident has a duty to other motorists and pedestrians alike to obey traffic laws and drive safely. Therefore, if a person who fails to stop at a red light T-bones another driver, that person can be held liable for any resulting injuries. 

Although this defense does not come up frequently, it is important to have an attorney well-equipped to handle your case if the situation does arise. 

What can be classified as a “sudden emergency” under the Sudden Emergency Doctrine in a car accident case?

The types of situations that classify a “sudden emergency” can vary from state-to-state, but typically these situations leave the defendant with no possible way to avoid the emergency. Some examples of this defense can be unexpected weather conditions such as dense fog moving across the road severely limiting the drivers view, a patch of dark ice on the road that causes a driver to lose control, unexpected roadway obstructions, and even medical emergencies. 

Drivers who experience an unexpected medical emergency may have no opportunity to mitigate the situation and slow down or pull over which may lead to a collision. 

However, if the driver experienced symptoms indicating that there may be a medical emergency well-before the crash, or even if they knew of a medical condition they have that may have been foreseeable that a medical emergency might occur while driving, their defense of using the Sudden Emergency Doctrine may not be applicable in the situation. 

Who can the Sudden Emergency Doctrine protect in a car accident case?

The emergency doctrine can protect a civil defendant on the issue of his or her primary negligence and also by the plaintiff on the issue of his or her contributory negligence. 

Filing a Personal Injury Lawsuit in Florida

If you have been injured in a Florida accident due to someone else’s negligence, it is in your best interest to act immediately, and seek compensation for your injuries and damages. 

Although we recommend you contact a reputable personal injury attorney right away, you do have 4 years from the date of your accident to file a personal injury lawsuit and seek compensation in the state of Florida. 

Either way, if this is you, contact an attorney as soon as possible so they can prepare you for any potential defenses, such as the Sudden Emergency Doctrine. 

Contact a Pipas Law Attorney

Contact me directly at 727-580-2064 or one of my fellow personal injury attorneys here at Pipas Law right away if you have been injured in an accident because of a negligent act. 

We have Personal Injury Attorneys in offices in both St. Petersburg and Tampa. We will guide you through the tough situations that will lie ahead and prepare you for any defense that is thrown your way. 

My colleagues and I here at Pipas Law Group represent clients not only in Tampa Bay but all throughout the State of Florida. We will help you recover the compensation that you deserve for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. 

All the best,

st. petersburg accident lawyer chris waters

Chris Waters, ESQ

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