- Associated Press - Friday, February 7, 2014

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - A Cedar Falls woman cannot be held responsible for an accident that occurred in 2008 because a stroke she suffered while driving impaired her vision, the Iowa Supreme Court said Friday.

The court’s ruling upholds a jury verdict that found Betty Schmidt was not at fault when she rear-ended a pickup truck stopped at a red light because she had suffered a stroke just before the crash.

It was the court’s first time considering the medical emergency defense in an accident that impaired a driver who at the time wasn’t aware she was suffering a medical problem.

Schmidt, who was 75 in November 2008, was returning home from grocery shopping when she rear-ended Dennis Hagenow’s truck. It was her first accident.

Her doctor concluded she had suffered a stroke while driving which made it impossible for her to see the truck. Hagenow’s expert witness claimed the stroke came after the accident.

A jury found her not at fault for medical reasons at a trial in May 2012. Hagenow appealed, arguing the district court judge erred in the instructions to the jury on the sudden emergency defense. He also claimed evidence was insufficient to show Schmidt suffered a stroke prior to the accident and that the medical event caused the accident.

The Iowa Court of Appeals found in April that the jury instruction on the sudden emergency defense did not apply to the circumstances of this accident and was not supported by the evidence. The court reversed the jury verdict and ordered a new trial.

The Supreme Court in the ruling filed Friday disagreed and restored the jury’s verdict finding evidence was sufficient to allow the emergency defense and any issues with the wording of the jury instructions were harmless.

“Based on this evidence, a reasonable juror could find that Schmidt rear-ended the Hagenows’ vehicle because of her stroke and loss of vision. We conclude the evidence was sufficient to submit the defense,” the court wrote.

Attorneys for Hagenow and Schmidt did not immediately return messages.

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