Driver Who Had Stroke While Driving in East Texas Was Entitled to Dismissal of Negligence Lawsuit Based on Unavoidable Accident Defense – Gomez v. Cooke

In a personal injury lawsuit, such as a case arising from a motor vehicle accident, the plaintiff has the burden of proving the four elements of negligence – duty, breach of duty, damages, and causation – by a preponderance of the evidence.

Once the plaintiff has made out a prima facie case, the defendant may offer evidence disputing the plaintiff’s claims and/or putting forth affirmative defenses or other legal arguments.

Facts of the Case

In the case of Gomez v. Cooke, the plaintiff was a motorist who was injured when his car was struck by a pickup truck with a camper in tow. He sued the driver of the pickup, alleging negligence and negligence per se. The defendant answered that the accident was unavoidable due to a medical emergency that was not foreseeable.

According to the defendant’s wife, she had felt the truck moving toward the left and looked over to see her husband with his hands in his lap, his head down, and his demeanor unresponsive. After the accident (which involved not only the plaintiff’s vehicle but several others, as well), first responders noted that the defendant had weakness on one side of his body and that his face drooped. The defendant was later diagnosed as having had a stroke and lost consciousness while behind the wheel.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Court’s Decision

On appeal, the plaintiff urged that the issue of whether the collision was an unavoidable accident was not a question of law for the court but, rather, a question of fact for the jury. The court found the plaintiff’s argument unconvincing and affirmed the lower court’s entry of summary judgment. According to the court, an “unavoidable accident” is an event that is not proximately caused by a party’s negligence. Negligence happens when a person, business, or governmental entity fails to exercise ordinary care and diligence. In other words, an unavoidable accident is one that such care and diligence would not have prevented.

In this case, the defendant raised an inferential-rebuttal defense to the plaintiff’s negligence claim by submitting his medical and hospital records, the crash reports, and excerpts from several depositions, including those of his treating doctor and his wife. Although the defendant had hypertension for several years prior to the crash, his doctor opined that his risk of a stroke was minimal and that he did not foresee the possibility of the defendant having a stroke while driving based on his hypertension alone. Therefore, dismissal of the plaintiff’s negligence case against him was proper.

Talk to an East Texas Car Accident Attorney

If you have been involved in a motor vehicle collision, you should know your legal rights. The Law Office of Earl Drott, P.C., has been assisting injured people for thirty years, and we will be glad to evaluate your East Texas car accident case at no charge. Just call (903) 531-9300 and ask for an appointment. Our offices are located in Tyler. We serve all of Smith County and the surrounding area.

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