I suffer a heart attack and cause an accident, am I exempt from liability?

August 12 , 2019 // Specialty : Liability derived from the use of motor vehicles

Published in Noticias Jurídicas

A recent ruling of the Provincial Court of Barcelona (APB), dated June 6, 2019 (available here) has dealt with an interesting question about damage regime in accident situations, force majeure and unforeseeable causes.

The case raises the question of whether a myocardial infarction suffered by a bus driver, almost 70 years old, finally deceased, can be considered a case of "force majeure" that exempts him from liability when claiming damage to insurance.

What does the law say about it?

The law applicable to the case is the Consolidated Text of the Law on civil liability and insurance in the circulation of motor vehicles, approved by Royal Legislative Decree 8/04, of October 29, in relation to articles 1902 of the Civil Code and 76 of the Insurance Contract Law.

Article 1.1 of the Royal Decree establishes that the driver who creates a risk in driving and causes damage to people or property will be responsible for an accident.

This damage, however, will be exempt from liability if there is a force majeure cause, which must be "foreign to driving or operating the vehicle." The concept of force majeure, an unforeseeable or foreseeable assumption is inevitable, must be studied in relation to the definition of article 1105 of the Civil Code.

Is a heart attack a case of force majeure?

The court explains that a cardiac arrest is an assumption linked to the driver, as well as a distraction, drowsiness or glare.

The resolution considers that a myocardial infarction cannot be considered a “force majeure” case that exempts from liability. An event that links the driver cannot be considered force majeure that exempts liability, as established in Article 1.1 of the Royal Decree on civil liability and insurance in the movement of vehicles, which excludes conditions or circumstances that are inherent to the driver.

Therefore, in the eyes of the audience, it does not meet the requirement that the circumstance be "foreign to driving or functioning."

In this sense, the sentence explains that the insurer of the infarcted driver "has not proven that we are facing an unpredictable or unavoidable episode in a man born in 1947 and therefore had almost 70 years after the accident."

The burden of proof corresponds to the company of the accident to remove the presumption of predictability of the circumstance. Since the bus driver's company does not give proof of the driver's previous health status (for example, he has not proven that he did not suffer from a previous episode or that his health status was generally good), it should be presumed that the infarction it was predictable, especially in a person of almost sixty years.

Other cases of heart attacks

The sentence of the APB is not the first to rule on a case of claim for non-contractual damages where force majeure is alleged as a result of a heart attack.

Other sentences have coincided with the audience in considering the infarction a fact not framed in the cases of force majeure, as it is a driver's own condition, such as drowsiness or carelessness.

Thus, for example, the Provincial Court of Malaga also failed in the same sense as the APB in the case of a driver who fainted as a result of a myocardial infarction (judgment of July 8, 2004, available here), or in an equal case of the Provincial Court of Burgos (judgment of April 15, 2005, available here).

What regime should be applied then?

If myocardial infarction cannot be considered an event that exempts liability, the general civil damage regime of article 1902 of the Civil Code and article 76 of the Insurance Contract Law must be applied.

The bus driver skipped a STOP signal causing the accident to invade a crossing. Having a heart attack is indifferent to the case in terms of responsibility: you must answer for the damage caused.

Other cases of force majeure

The casuistry of the cases of force majeure demonstrates that it is not easy to get a court to declare as such the reasons that cause an accident.

The APB ruling explains that force majeure is reserved for natural events and / or external to the vehicle and the driver. However, this interpretation can sometimes be limited and excludes events that, although fortuitous, have not been admitted as an unpredictable or unavoidable force majeure, outside the driver.

For example:
There was no force majeure in the accident caused by the fall of a tree by the explosion of an explosive cyclogenesis, since the phenomenon had been announced and therefore ceased to be an unpredictable event (Provincial Court of Guipúzcoa, Section 3, Judgment 146 / 2012 from May 15, 2012, available here).
A ruling from the Supreme Court of 2015 confirmed the responsibility of a vehicle driver who caused an accident while trying to dodge a wild boar herd, considering it a fortuitous event, but not force majeure, nor made an alien to driving, "as evidenced by the multitude of accidents that occur on the roads with game animals ”(Supreme Court ruling, First Chamber, Civil, Judgment 3/2015 of 4 Feb. 2015, available here).
Using the same argument, a ruling by the Provincial Court of Ciudad Real rejected considering force majeure that a dog crosses the path of the damaged car (Provincial Court of Ciudad Real, Section 1, Judgment 159/2018 of June 7, 2018, available here).
There is no force majeure in the accident caused by the detachment of the tread from the wheel of a vehicle (Provincial Court of Guipúzcoa, Section 3, Judgment 130/2017 of June 29, 2017, available here).

Sufro un infarto al volante y provoco un accidente, ¿estoy exento de responsabilidad?

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