Roman v. Estate of Gobbo
99 Ohio St.3d 260, 791 N.E.2d 422 (2003)

  • Gobbo had heart surgery. The doctors did not advise Gobbo to stop driving, because he was at risk for a sudden heart attack.
  • Gobbo drove, had a heart attack, died, and his car ran into two other cars, killing and injuring some of the occupants (including Gobbo’s wife).
  • Roman sued Gobbo’s Estate for negligence.
  • At Trial, the jury was instructed on the sudden-medical-emergency defense.
    • The sudden-medical-emergency defense would be an excuse for negligence if Gobbo’s Estate could prove that Gobbo’s heart attack was not reasonably foreseeable.
    • See Lehman v. Haynam (133 N.E. 2d 97 (1956)).
  • The Trial Court found for Gobbo’s Estate. Roman appealed.
    • Even though Gobbo was at fault, the jury found that the heart attack was not foreseeable. This is a question of fact that the Appellate Court can’t overrule.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court found that in order to be found negligent, a defendant must have acted unreasonably. When there is no unreasonable conduct, there is no fault.
    • To find a defendant liable for the effects of unforeseen medical emergencies would be to impose strict liability, which is inappropriate.
    • Roman unsuccessfully argued that drivers who operate a vehicle with knowledge of medical condition should bear the risk of injuries caused by that condition.
      • Of course, then anyone with an inkling of a possible medical condition would be precluded from using the sudden-medical-emergency defense.
  • Note that this rule doesn’t work the other way around for contributory negligence. A blind person can’t be held contributorily negligent for not seeing an obvious hole in the ground and falling in.
    • See Shepard v. Gardner Wholesale, Inc. (256 So.2d 877 (1972)).