According to a study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, nearly one out of every three large truck operators suffers from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea impairs the body’s ability to take in enough oxygen at night, as it causes interruptions of breathing functions during sleep. This potentially life-threatening condition can cause up to 400 such interruptions nightly and tends to leave sufferers far more fatigued during their waking hours than they would otherwise be.
There are a number of reasons why so many truck operators are affected by this condition, not least of which is that trucking is a sedentary job and those who are overweight tend to suffer from sleep apnea with far greater frequency than those who fall into the “ideal” body mass index range. Fatigue resulting from untreated sleep apnea can significantly impair a trucker’s ability to remain alert on the job and can, therefore, lead to accidents.
What Does the FMCSA Say?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is the federal agency tasked primarily with “regulating and providing safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), FMCSA’s mission is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses.” As a result, the FMCSA regularly takes action aimed at curbing the most common causes of large motor vehicle crashes, including fatigue. Driving while truly fatigued is just as dangerous as operating a motor vehicle while impaired by alcohol, so this phenomenon is treated with a seriousness of purpose and great scrutiny by the FMCSA.
With that said, the agency admits that there is nothing in its current regulations that address sleep apnea specifically. While the agency has put into place strict hours of service regulations aimed at ensuring that truckers are rested before they hit the road, the agency doesn’t regulate the issue of sleep apnea specifically. Instead, current regulations simply state that individuals whose medical history or clinical diagnoses impede their ability to operate a vehicle safely are unqualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle in interstate commerce. This isn’t terribly “helpful” guidance when it comes to keeping fatigued drivers off the road, as sleep apnea is rarely so debilitating (in and of itself) that it would be identified as a reason to disqualify a trucker from operating a vehicle. Only when sleep apnea is classified as “moderate to severe” is it a disqualifying condition until it has been successfully treated and/or a medical examiner has determined that the driver is fit for duty.
As to the obligations of a motor carrier concerning drivers with sleep apnea, the FMCSA’s website states that, “A motor carrier may not require or permit a driver to operate a CMV if the driver has a condition — including sleep apnea — that would affect his or her ability to safely operate the vehicle.” This point can serve an injury victim’s case, in the event that they are struck by a truck driven by an operator whose unsafe medical diagnosis was known to the carrier and the carrier permitted them to operate the vehicle anyway.
When individuals suffer injury in trucking accidents involving fatigue, their legal options are largely dependent upon whether they were driving for work or not at the time and to what degree (if any) their negligent, reckless, or intentionally dangerous conduct contributed to the cause of the accident in question.
Truckers who are harmed while driving for work may file a claim for workers’ compensation benefits, if they are eligible for this coverage. Workers’ compensation benefits are awarded on a no-fault basis, with very few exceptions. Therefore, if eligible truckers get into an accident, they should be awarded benefits unless they were drunk, high, engaged in starting a road rage incident, or intentionally trying to get hurt at the time of their work-related collision. Truckers who operate as independent contractors (or who are otherwise ineligible for workers’ compensation coverage) must pursue alternative means to obtain rightful compensation. Opportunities to obtain compensation may include working with an attorney to file insurance claims and/or to file personal injury lawsuits.
Anyone who is injured in an accident involving a large truck may have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit, provided that another’s reckless, negligent, or intentionally dangerous conduct contributed to the cause(s) of their crash. This is true in California, even if accident victims also contributed to the cause(s) of their injurious circumstances. Other motorists, trucking companies engaged in unsafe employment practices, and even government agencies responsible for safely maintaining roadways may be sued in the aftermath of a fatigue-related accident. The only clear-cut exception to this rule involves truckers interested in suing their employers. Truckers who are eligible for workers’ compensation benefits cannot sue their employers, but may sue others involved in the accident under scrutiny.
If you’ve been injured in an accident involving a large commercial truck, please schedule a confidential, free, no-pressure consultation with our experienced legal team today to explore your options under the law. Whether you drive a truck for a living or you were traveling in any vehicle, for any reason when you were struck, our team can help you pursue any compensation to which you may be rightfully entitled.
It isn’t always easy to know whether fatigue, unsafe trucking company practices, and/or other “invisible” factors have played a role in the causation of an accident at first glance. However, our team has extensive experience investigating truck accidents and we understand how to identify the root causes of collisions before pursuing legal action against those responsible. During your free consultation, we’ll gather as much information as we can to help you make informed decisions about your opportunities for legal recourse. Should you choose to move forward, we will conduct a thorough investigation with the aim of building the strongest possible case on your behalf, regardless of what factors ultimately led to your injurious circumstances. We look forward to speaking with you.