How to defeat the sudden medical emergency defense in cross-the-median cases

How To Defeat the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense When a Tractor Trailer Crosses the Median and Causes Injuries

November 28, 2023 in Articles, Personal Injury Articles | MARTIN WREN, P.C. | LEAVE A COMMENT

Defeating the Sudden Medical Emergency Defense When a Tractor-Trailer Crosses the Median

In the aftermath of a devastating accident involving a tractor-trailer crossing the median and colliding with oncoming traffic, injured parties face not only physical and emotional trauma but will also face a complex and hard-fought legal battle. Trucking companies will fight hard to minimize or avoid responsibility, and they may attempt to raise the sudden medical emergency defense if there is any basis for doing so. When trucking companies raise this defense, they may be able to avoid any responsibility for the significant harms and losses their driver cases.

I have personally handled several of these cross-the-median cases and present some thoughts about how to defeat this defense when it arises.

To begin with, it is critical to understand what the sudden medical emergency defense is and how it arises in order to understand how to defeat it. In a nutshell, trucking companies will often argue that their driver experienced an unforeseen medical issue that rendered him or her incapable of controlling the vehicle. At its core, the defense requires the trucking company to prove that the driver had a medical emergency, that the medical emergency arose suddenly, that the medical emergency prevented the driver from taking action to control the vehicle, and that the driver did not know or have reason to believe that a sudden medical emergency would occur before it happened.  This defense, if successfully proven, can excuse the driver and the trucking company from any legal liability for the accident. Because these claims can provide a complete defense to drivers and their employers, there is a massive incentive for truck companies to raise the defense. Because of that, it is extremely important to aggressively challenge this defense when it is raised.

Here are five things in particular to keep in mind when this defense arises.

  1. Challenges in Establishing the Defense:

Proving a sudden medical emergency defense is no simple feat. Trucking companies must provide compelling evidence that the driver experienced a genuine medical emergency that was unforeseeable. This involves thorough medical documentation, expert testimony, and a comprehensive examination of the driver’s medical history. An experienced personal injury attorney can adeptly challenge the validity of such claims and scrutinize the evidence presented. Trucking companies are required to ensure that their drivers are medically qualified to drive their trucks, so they must know whether their driver had a medical condition that could prevent safe driving. It is oftentimes the case that trucking companies “look the other way” when hiring drivers and put unsafe drivers on the road in the first instance.  When that happens, it is very difficult for a motor carrier to raise the sudden medical emergency defense.

  1. Driver Health and Screening Obligations:

Trucking companies have a legal obligation to ensure that their drivers are fit and qualified for duty. This includes regular health screenings, adherence to medical standards, and monitoring the driver’s health throughout their employment. An attorney specializing in personal injury cases involving truck accidents will meticulously investigate whether the trucking company fulfilled these obligations and whether there were any warning signs that should have precluded the driver from being on the road. I’ve seen cases where a driver who had been medically unqualified due to a heart condition was allowed to return to work and the trucking company then allowed him to violate hours of service standards during his first trip when he returned as a driver. That driver then crashed when he believed he was having a heart attack.  The case settled shortly after that information became available.

  1. Negligence in Monitoring and Training:

Even if a medical emergency is genuine, questions may arise regarding the trucking company’s negligence in monitoring and training their drivers. A robust legal argument may center on whether the company knew or should have known about the driver’s medical condition, and whether proper training and protocols were in place to handle emergencies. According to federal regulations, a driver who experiences a medical condition that makes him feel ill or fatigued must take steps to exit the roadway so as to not endanger other drivers. If that driver fails to do so because they have not been trained to do so and they drive and cause a crash, the sudden medical emergency will not be available to that driver and motor carrier. A skilled attorney will explore these aspects to establish liability and seek rightful compensation for the injured party.

  1. Black Box Data Analysis:

Modern commercial trucks are equipped with event data recorders, commonly known as black boxes, which capture crucial information leading up to an accident. Analyzing this data can provide insights into the driver’s actions, vehicle speed, and potential signs of driver impairment. For example, a trucking company may claim that a driver experienced an unexpected heart attack that knocked him unconscious and rendered him unable to control the vehicle. The black box data, however, may show that the driver was attempting to control the vehicle by using the brakes or doing other things that would show in the black box data. An attorney experienced in trucking accidents will know how to obtain and interpret this data to strengthen the injured party’s case.

  1. Crash Scene Analysis:

Crash scenes from tractor-trailer accidents often have enormous amounts of valuable forensic evidence that can rebut or defeat the sudden medical emergency defense.  Brake marks or yaw marks may show that the truck driver took evasive action to avoid a crash, and this can be used to show that he was conscious and able to control the vehicle.  Other motorists may have observed the truck driver’s conduct leading up to the crash and can provide insight on whether the driver had been driving erratically before the collision occurred. I have worked with accident reconstruction experts and other specialists to analyze crash scenes and who can then offer testimony to counter the sudden medical emergency defense and support the injured party’s claim.


For those who have suffered injuries in a tragic accident involving a tractor-trailer crossing the median, the sudden medical emergency defense may be presented as an obstacle to obtaining rightful compensation. Having confronted and defeated this defense on numerous occasions, my team and I can attack and defeat this claim when it is not based on solid medical evidence. We will fight hard to defeat this defense by thoroughly investigating the driver’s pre-crash health, scrutinizing the trucking company’s practices and policies, investigating the vehicles and crash scene, leveraging expert testimony, and taking the other steps necessary to beat this defense. If you are being told that your claim has little value due to the possible existence of the sudden medical emergency defense, contact experienced Virginia truck accident lawyer Robert E. Byrne, Jr. at 434-817-3100 for a no-cost consultation. The truck crash attorneys of MartinWren, P.C. will fight hard for you and your family.

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