Car accidents caused by elderly drivers are gaining national attention. In 2010, an 85-year-old woman steered her car into oncoming traffic and caused a fatal car crash, killing her longtime boyfriend who was in the passenger seat. The woman’s doctor, who has been treating her dementia for the past two years, faced a wrongful death suit from the family of the deceased man.

The case centers on whether the doctor should have started the process to take away the woman’s driver’s license. The doctor was aware that his patient’s memory was worsening, but when he saw her two weeks before the accident, he did not think that her problems were serious enough to report. The man’s family never seemed concerned about letting him ride with the woman, but they say that the woman hid her dementia well.

Typically, elderly adults are more likely to suffer from dementia and conditions involving slowed reflexes and a lack of alertness. Some believe that doctors treating elderly drivers have a responsibility to warn authorities that their patients may be unsafe drivers. Drivers over the age of 75 are most likely to be involved in a fatal crash, according to a federal report in 2007.

Many Texas doctors are unsure of whether they have an obligation to report elderly drivers to the DMV. Elderly advocates say that losing a license can be devastating in many states where public transportation is not a legitimate option.

Texas families in a similar situation need to show that there was negligence on the part of the doctor that resulted in the death of the decedent. Families trying to recover damages for an elderly person’s death should expect a modest amount. Elderly persons past the age of retirement are not seen by courts as having significant earning potential. Children of elderly people tend to be adults who do not need as much support from their parents.

Source: Los Angeles Times, “Doctor sued over fatal crash by patient with dementia,” Jessica Garrison and Alan Zarembo, Sept. 7, 2012