A recent lawsuit has highlighted an area of growing concern – elderly drivers causing serious, and sometimes fatal, motor vehicle accidents. While it is common for the driver responsible for the crash to face legal action thereafter, courts are exploring the liability of other third parties in cases of crashes caused by senior citizens.
A case currently being heard in Santa Ana was initiated due to a car accident in 2010. An 85-year-old woman, who had been diagnosed with dementia by her physician and prescribed medication, was driving a vehicle with her boyfriend in the passenger seat. She made a wrong turn, which resulted in an accident that ultimately killed her significant other.
The lawsuit was filed by the deceased’s family against the elderly woman’s doctor. The suit contends the doctor should have reported his patient’s memory loss to authorities, to begin the process to have her driver’s license rescinded.
Under California law, doctors are required to be aware of their patients who suffer from “disorders characterized by lapses of consciousness.” In such cases, doctors are expected to report those issues to local health authorities, who are then responsible for informing the Department of Motor Vehicles. Ultimately, physicians are responsible for beginning the process of rescinding driver’s licenses. While the law specifically mentions Alzheimer’s disease as a reason to begin the process, it allows doctors the discretion to determine if a patient constitutes a danger on the road.
As the population in the U.S. ages, these issues will likely become more common. According to federal data, in 2007, drivers who were 75 and older were the most likely of any other age group to be involved in a deadly accident. Strikingly, the number of drivers over 65 years of age is projected to reach 57 million by 2030, almost twice that of 2007.
Consequently, it is critical for doctors and family members to be vigilant, to ensure elderly family members do not pose a threat on the road.
Source: Los Angeles Times, “Doctor sued over fatal crash by patient with dementia,” Jessica Garrison and Alan Zarembo, Sept. 7, 2012.
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