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Will Epileptic Seizures Prevent Liability When the Person’s Seizure Causes a Traffic Accident and Damages to Another Person?

Burdine & Brown June 9, 2022

In a recent Case presented to the Court of Appeals, Screven County v. Sandlin, decided May 4, 2022, by the Georgia Court of Appeals, the case involved an inmate who was riding in the County’s own pick up truck. The inmate was the passenger in the back seat and the truck veered off the road causing the inmate’s seat belt to break. He was thrown into the dashboard and the windshield. Therefore, the inmate suffered headaches and fatigue and loss of consciousness. 

However, the driver of the vehicle was diagnosed by a neurologist of having epilepsy that was characterized by an episode of syncope or seizure. The seizure caused a loss of consciousness and that caused the vehicle to veer off the road. 

The question before the court was:  was this an unforeseeable Act of God? Which entitled the County to a summary judgment on the claim that the inmate’s injuries could not be attributed to the negligent operation of the vehicle. 

Court reviewed the applicable president and whether the Act of God was the sole proximate cause of the automobile accident. When the driver suffers an unforeseeable illness which causes him to suddenly lose consciousness and control of the automobile, that loss of control is not negligent, and the driver is not liable for damages. The driver must show that an unforeseeable loss of consciousness produced the accident without any contributing factors on his part. 

The County was unaware of any impairment or illness on the part of the driver of the vehicle so they could not have foreseen that he would have a seizure or loss of consciousness while driving a county vehicle. 

It is rare, but from time to time, one can avoid liability by demonstrating that a seizure was the cause of the accident. It is almost like saying “my little brother did it”, but this defense does not work all the time.