Being in control of a large commercial vehicle like a moving truck or tractor trailer is no easy task. Aside from the mechanical difficulties of maneuvering something of that size, there are other taxing demands the job has to offer, such as long hours, heavy equipment, and a life spent primarily on the road. Because of this, it is important that trucking companies address the issues surrounding driver fatigue.
Sleep apnea is a medical condition that causes the afflicted person to stop breathing for a few seconds several times throughout the course of their sleep. This can be life-threatening condition. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) recommends that drivers and their doctors “contact the medical qualifying examiner to determine [a driver’s] fitness to operate a commercial motor vehicle and to get help with treatment,” and lists moderate to severe sleep apnea as a potentially disqualifying condition.
Sleep apnea — while not typically the cause of drivers falling asleep at the wheel — can and does increase daytime sleepiness while decreasing alertness, reflexes, and all-around performance. This is precisely why it is so dangerous. A study conducted by the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine conclusively found that drivers of any vehicle are at a higher risk of crashing with sleep apnea.
Truck drivers without sleep apnea already face fatigue and daytime sleepiness with long hours and short breaks. Sleep apnea, when untreated or improperly supervised, only compounds those risks, and such fatigue is already one of the most common causes of truck-related accidents.
Who is responsible if a sleepy trucker causes a crash?
When dealing with a commercial vehicle collision of any sort, there is usually more than one party to hold responsible. Truckers and their employers are required to operate within the regulations put forth by the FMCSA. For example, motor carriers are forbidden from both requiring and permitting a driver to operate a commercial vehicle if they have any conditions — such as moderate to severe sleep apnea — that would make doing so unsafe. If, as is unfortunately common, they put profit above public safety and neglect these rules, they are rightfully liable for the consequences.
The driver would also be liable, even if their medical condition leads to a drowsy driver collision. Drivers are responsible for their own behavior. If they suffer a medical emergency, they could be immune from liability – but it must be a true emergency. A driver who has been diagnosed with sleep apnea and is feeling the effects at the time of the collision can still be held liable.
As the victim, it is not your job to worry about whether the trucker or the employer is liable for your injuries. It is your job to worry about getting better. Do not wait; proper legal representation will not help you if the statute of limitations has expired, so finding that representation as soon as possible is paramount. At Plattner Verderame, PC, our Phoenix truck accident attorneys are experienced, knowledgeable, and ready to represent you. For free information, call us at 602-266-2002 or fill out our contact form today. We maintain offices in Phoenix and Tempe to better serve you.
Partner Frank Verderame is a seasoned trial attorney, who has dedicated his life to helping victims of serious injuries. He is a Board Certified Specialist in Personal Injury and Wrongful Death Litigation, and has been an active part of legal communities and organizations since he started his practice, back in 1983.
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