February 1, 2015- Richmond, VA
Richmond police are now reporting that a woman who collided with a fire hydrant in a residential neighborhood on Sunday afternoon may have been experiencing a medical emergency at the time of the crash.
At approximately 4:00 PM, the unidentified woman lost control of her car while driving in the in the 7600 block of Cherokee Road, causing her to crash into a fire hydrant. The woman was not seriously injured as a result, although the collision resulted in minor flooding along Cherokee Road.
Virginians who become involved in single or multi-car accidents while experiencing a medical emergencies face unique legal challenges. The Commonwealth is one of only a few states that maintains the common-law defense of contributory negligence. Contributory negligence acts as a bar to recovery where an injured person’s own carelessness or negligence is found to be a contributing proximate cause to their injury. Single-car accidents in particular are almost always assumed to be the fault of the driver. Drivers who incur or cause injury while experiencing a medical emergency should seek aggressive legal representation with the experience to navigate these challenges.
Virginia courts recognize the reality that not all accidents or injuries are avoidable. The “sudden emergency doctrine” relieves a person of liability if, without prior negligence on their part, that person is faced with a sudden emergency and acts as an ordinary prudent person would act. In the case of a medical emergency, the courts look to whether the driver in question had a medical history of the condition that caused the accident. If there is no evidence that a driver should have been aware that a medical emergency would occur, then there is no evidence that the driver was negligent.
While no charges against the driver have been reported, any resulting damage to the fire hydrant may be considered a criminal offense. Generally, injury to property occurs when property belonging to someone else unlawfully destroyed, defaced, removed or damaged.
In Virginia, whether or not the alleged offense is a misdemeanor or felony depends upon the value of the property and the intent of the accused. However, criminal charges are not limited to unlawful acts and can include lawful acts done in a criminally negligent way. The “sudden emergency doctrine” may be an important legal tool for defeating or reducing charges of injury to property.