Usually when someone crosses a median strip and goes into oncoming traffic there is impairment by drugs or alcohol, or alternatively the person may have fallen asleep. A fatal accident in Georgia recently may raise the issue of whether civil liability can be imposed on someone who blacks out while driving, thereby losing control and causing an accident. The question in this case will also be decided in a criminal context as well.

The case involves former Atlanta Hawks player and NBA all-star, Mookie Blaylock. He’s in a hospital bed with serious injuries, but he’s also under arrest for vehicular homicide. He was in a fatal accident where he crossed the median strip and crashed into a van on a roadway in Jonesboro. The driver of the van sustained a broken ankle but his wife, who was a mother of five, died.

Blaylock’s also charged with driving with a suspended license and not staying in the proper lane. He claims that he blacked out just before the fatal accident. It appears that his counsel is already starting a public relations campaign by announcing that Blaylock was preliminarily tested for drugs and alcohol and none showed up.

His counsel said that he had previously had a similar seizure-type event whose cause is still unknown. They characterized the accident as a ‘non-criminal, unavoidable event’. However, a lawyer for Clayton County indicated to reporters that a seizure would not mitigate or lessen the charges. But if he did black out, it seems that criminal fault would be difficult to impose due to a lack of intent.

However, even if insufficient for criminal intent, Georgia law could impose civil liability for this fatal accident. Civil actions for wrongful death money damages are easier to prove than criminal cases. The fact of a prior blackout could indicate his carelessness in not taking care of the problem and getting medication. In practical terms, Blaylock may be quite willing to compensate the victims because that could only help mobilize opinion to his side and against a criminal prosecution. It could also help to ameliorate the tenor of the surviving husband’s testimony if he and his wife’s estate are satisfactorily compensated prior to a criminal prosecution.

Source: freep.com, “Mookie Blaylock hires top lawyers for vehicular homicide case,” Ray Glier, June 4, 2013