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Who is responsible for elderly drivers' car accidents? Part 1

In 2010, an 85-year-old woman was driving in California with her 90-year-old longtime boyfriend in the front passenger seat. About a mile away from their home, the woman made a wayward left turn directly in front of an oncoming vehicle, which crashed into the woman's car. She suffered a head injury, and her boyfriend had a broken pelvis, lung damage and other injuries. About six weeks later, he passed away.

This is, unfortunately, not an uncommon story. Traffic safety officials have long known of the unique dangers posed by elderly drivers, who are often plagued by slower reflexes, lack of alertness and other ailments. In fact, a federal report indicated that drivers over the age of 75 are the most likely to be involved in a fatal car accident than drivers in all other demographics. But, of course, not all older drivers pose a danger on the road. So who should decide when it is time for elderly people to stop driving?

That is the question being asked in a lawsuit filed in connection with the fatal car accident discussed above. In the suit, the family of the deceased man has filed a claim against the woman's doctor, stating that he should have realized that she posed a danger to herself and others on the road, and acted accordingly by notifying the DMV or a similar agency.

Specifically, the lawsuit alleges that the doctor had been treating the woman for symptoms of dementia for the two years prior to the fatal crash. Because he did not alert the proper authorities of those symptoms, the suit claims, he is responsible for the car accident and the man's death.

We will continue our discussion of this topic in our next blog post.

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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