A Racine County man can argue in Walworth County Court that a seizure he suffered caused a fatal 2014 car crash that killed a Delavan co-worker, an appeals court has ruled.
The case of Taran Raczka, now 25, of Kansasville will return to Walworth County Court next month after the District 2 Court of Appeals ruled in Raczka’s favor Dec. 20.
Now-retired Judge James Carlson had upheld the prosecution’s motion to prevent Raczka from using his seizure as an affirmative defense. Even if Raczka had a seizure, the prosecution argued he was “negligent in failing to take his prescribed seizure medication,” according to a summary of the case.
Raczka was charged in 2015 with homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle and second-degree reckless homicide after he crashed into a tree on the morning of Oct. 27, 2014, according to court documents. The crash killed his passenger, Jeffrey Bonsall, 45, who was riding with Raczka to a painting job.
Although blood tests revealed traces of marijuana and cocaine in Raczka’s blood, Raczka wanted to offer testimony that a seizure caused the crash.
Raczka’s argument, according to the decision, would include:
- He had a history of seizures.
- Bonsall’s girlfriend testifying that Raczka appeared sober and awake when he picked up Bonsall at 8:30 a.m. Raczka said he had smoked marijuana days before but not the morning of the crash.
- A witness at the scene testifying that “he saw Mr. Raczka’s arms flailing in an uncontrollable manner.”
- Raczka’s physician testifying that a seizure caused the crash.
The prosecution pointed to medical records that show Raczka had a seizure in 2011 and another in the spring of 2014, but after the latter, he did not see a doctor because of financial concerns, according to the decision. In the year leading up to the accident, Raczka did not take his medication “regularly if at all,” the records show.
Carlson decided there must be an “independent cause out of the control of the defendant” to support a plausible defense, and he did not think such an independent cause existed in Raczka’s case, the decision states.
The appeals court disagreed, saying a jury should decide the merits of Raczka’s argument because it was a question of fact, not a matter of law.
“We cannot see how failure to take prescribed medication prior to driving at all times and in all places constitutes negligence as a matter of law,” the decision states. “The jury is entitled to hear and weigh this evidence.”
A jury could consider evidence such as the side effects and benefits of the medication, Raczka’s propensity for seizures and his inability to afford the medication, the decision states.
“A jury might conclude that Raczka had been exercising due care under the circumstances,” the decision states. “On the other hand, the jury could conclude that Raczka did not meet his burden to prove that he had a seizure, or that even if he did, he was exercising due care when he failed to take his medication.”
Raczka is due in Walworth County Court for a status conference at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 5.