Driver Passes Out and Kills Passenger in Crash
While driving to Bloomington for Thanksgiving with Wanda Denson as a passenger in his vehicle, Delmer Dillard suddenly declared he was not feeling well, slumped over and passed out. The vehicle he was driving then crashed into a house off State Road 252 near Morgantown, severely injuring Denson, resulting in more than $400,000 in medical bills. Dillard died at the scene and was later confirmed to have suffered a massive heart attack while driving.
Dillard had suffered another heart attack six weeks earlier and was prescribed home health care. A follow-up appointment found Dillard was doing well with no chest pain. He was not informed by medical professionals that he was unable to drive based on hospital records, cardiologist notes, stress test, and functional capacity.
Five months after the accident, Denson filed a negligence complaint against the Dillard’s estate and further sought uninsured/underinsured motorist benefits from her own automobile insurer. The estate defended that Dillard was faced with a sudden medical emergency which was so imminent as to leave no time for deliberation or action.
Both sides filed motions for summary judgment. A trial court entered judgment in favor of the estate, finding it successfully negated the element of breach on Denson’s negligence claim.
On appeal, Denson argued the trial court erred in its ruling favoring the estate. However, the appellate court found that under the narrow and specific circumstances of the case, designated evidence negated the element of breach.
Specifically, the appellate court found no need to formally recognize a specific doctrine or defense, determining that the application of general negligence principles adequately addressed the case. It also found that the estate made a prima facie case on the issue and that the evidence designated by Denson failed to create a genuine issue of material fact.
The appellate court ruled that the estate met its burden in negating Denson’s negligence claim on the element of breach. The court relied on the fact that Dillard was not given any restrictions or warnings by medical personnel and there being no evidence of any symptoms prior to his decision to drive on November 20. Also, while Dillard was prescribed medication for his heart and had previously had a heart attack, there was no inference that Dillard should have altered his behavior regarding driving.