According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about 1 in 25 adults will experience a serious mental illness that affects their ability to participate in major life activities. It's a good bet that many of these people drive on the public roadways. This brings up the question of how the insurance companies and courts establish liability in cases where a person's mental illness factored into the crash.
Factors that Affect Liability
Most states hold that people suffering from a mental disability, incapacity, or illness will be held liable for accidents they cause regardless of the severity of their conditions. However, there are a couple of factors that could allow a mentally ill person to avoid being held liable for the incident.
One factor is whether or not the individual had the capacity to know right from wrong at the time of the accident. For instance, a person with schizophrenia who is not taking medication may not be aware or understand that driving into oncoming traffic is wrong at the moment the incident occurs because the condition causes people to become very confused and unable to recognize what is real. In this situation, the insurance company or a judge may rule the person is not liable for the accident, which may affect the victim's ability to get compensation for damages.
Another thing the courts may consider is when and how the mental illness came about and whether the person could anticipate its onset. If a person experiences a sudden and unforeseeable mental break while driving that causes the individual to begin using the roadways in an unsafe manner, the court may treat the incident like a sudden medical emergency. This is a legal defense that states a person cannot be held liable for an accident caused by something out of his or her control; in this case, sudden and unexpected onset of a mental condition.
Proving Mental Illness is the Cause
Using mental illness as a defense in an accident case can be immensely challenging. In addition to proving the mental illness exists, a defendant must also show the condition had such a negative impact on his or her state of mind that it affected the person's ability to drive safely.
Although there is a lot of information about mental illness available today, mental health disorders are not always well understood by the general public. A person who wants to use this defense will need to have medical and mental health experts testify on his or her behalf that the person has the condition and the effect it can have on the individual's mental state.
Because of the complexities involved in this type of defense, it's best to collaborate with an auto accident attorney like one from Reed Law to develop a legal strategy and collect evidence to help you adequately defend yourself in court.