Commercial trucks are a necessary part of our economy. These trucks travel the entire nation delivering essential goods, but they also pose a severe risk to all other drivers on the road. This is because a semi-truck crash can result in devastating injuries and fatalities to other motorists.
While victims may seek compensation from negligent truck drivers and companies, these highly complex and challenging claims require a truck accident lawyer to successfully pursue.
Due to their significant size and weight, large trucks can cause substantial damage if they hit other vehicles, especially smaller passenger vehicles. Drivers who suffer injury because of an accident involving a semi-truck can be victims of one of the most common dangers affecting truck drivers: driver fatigue.
Unfortunately, fatigued driving is a common and severe problem in the U.S. trucking industry. While federal regulations specify how many hours a trucker can drive consecutively, drivers still get behind the wheel of large trucks while critically tired. Tired drivers are dangerous, especially if they control large, heavy vehicles weighing 80,000 pounds or more.
How Tired Is Too Tired?
While the number of consecutive hours that someone has been awake can undoubtedly impact how tired they are, fatigue can also result from being awake at unusual times. Thanks to the nature of trucking industry jobs, trucker drivers are frequently on the road at odd hours, sometimes even driving through the night.
The following factors can also cause fatigue and exhaustion:
- Lack of adequate sleep
- Strenuous work activities
- Working long hours
- Stressful personal issues unrelated to work
- Combination of various other factors
When job requirements disrupt a driver's normal sleep rhythm on a regular basis, it can lead to continued and ongoing fatigue, impacting how a driver thinks, performs, and makes decisions while behind the wheel. Ultimately, tired driving will lead to collisions that harm innocent individuals and their families.
According to one theory, driver fatigue may also relate to sleep inertia. This may happen if a trucker sleeps in the truck berth at odd hours or is driving immediately after waking up. Sleep inertia can directly impact job performance, mental clarity, vigilance, cognitive functioning, and reaction time.
Are Drowsy or Fatigued Truck Drivers Similar to Drunk Drivers?
Commercial truck drivers are on the road for many hours at a time. The trucking industry feels serious pressure to deliver cargo as quickly as possible, often on tight schedules. The more drivers sleep, the longer it will take them to reach their destination. So even though there are government mandates about how often truck drivers need to take breaks and the duration of those breaks, drivers still fail to get enough rest.
This results in drowsy or fatigued driving, which is surprisingly similar to drunk driving when it comes to the ability to operate a vehicle.
- After about 18 hours of being awake, the effects on reaction time, multi-tasking, vigilance, and hand-eye coordination are similar to having a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.05 percent.
- After 20 hours without sleep, drowsy drivers are impaired on a level comparable to 0.08 BAC the current legal limit in most states.
- After 24 hours without sleep, impairment is equivalent to a blood alcohol content of 0.1 percent.
Hours-of-Service (HOS) Violations
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) limits how many hours a truck driver can drive daily, each shift, and in seven days. They also require that drivers receive a certain number of breaks and the minimum length of their breaks.
If truck drivers exceed these limits or fake compliance by falsifying their logbooks, they break HOS laws. These types of violations occur far too frequently. A truck accident lawyer can help identify HOS violations and hold the appropriate parties accountable.
Untreated Sleep Apnea Can Cause Truck Accidents
A myriad of factors can cause semi-truck accidents. One that isn't well-known is drivers who have untreated sleep apnea. This condition can cause drowsy driving problems such as lack of concentration and increased reaction times. If you think a truck driver with sleep apnea can have caused your accident, now is the time to seek legal help.
A study by the University of Pennsylvania and sponsored by the American Transportation Research Institute of the American Trucking Associations and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reveals that mild to severe sleep apnea affects nearly one-third (28 percent) of commercial truck drivers.
This is a shocking and dangerous statistic considering how many big rigs are on the road daily. However, it is just one of the many factors contributing to semi-truck accidents that a truck accident lawyer can investigate.
What Is Sleep Apnea?
This condition is a sleep disorder characterized by short periods of interrupted breathing while sleeping. Some individuals' breathing stops for 10 seconds or more up to 400 times during one night. Although sleep apnea is often undiagnosed, it can be life-threatening and impact the abilities of those affected.
Driving and Sleep Apnea
Truck drivers with sleep apnea rarely get a good night's sleep leading to difficulties staying awake during the day, problems with visual focusing, and longer reaction times. Individuals with sleep apnea are more likely to have vehicle accidents caused by fatigue. Even those who do not fall asleep while behind the wheel still suffer from decreased alertness and inattentiveness directly linked to lack of sleep. Fatigue and sleep apnea are no excuse for causing an accident. A seasoned truck accident attorney will hold truck drivers and their carriers accountable for any damages they cause.
Can Truck Drivers Still Drive With Sleep Apnea?
Sleep apnea is not addressed explicitly in FMCSA regulations. However, these regulations state that anyone with a medical history or clinical diagnosis of any disorder that can interfere with their driving abilities shouldn't be medically qualified to drive commercially in interstate commerce. Additionally,
motor carriers can't require or allow truck drivers to drive a commercial vehicle if they have any condition that impacts the safe operation of a vehicle. Untreated sleep apnea is one of these conditions.
Sleep apnea is treatable; treatment can improve sleep quality and prevent extreme drowsiness during waking hours. Once the truck driver addresses this problem and receives appropriate treatment, they are again allowed to drive.
Truck Drivers and Carriers Can Be Liable
Semi-truck drivers must take their health seriously, including their potential for sleep apnea and other conditions or medications that may impact their sleep. If they don't, they are potentially putting everyone in their path at risk for severe and fatal injuries.
Commercial trucking carriers knowingly allowing their drivers to work with untreated conditions can also be liable in an accident. However, due to the severity and complexity of big rig accidents, you must have legal representation when pursuing compensation.
What is Negligence?
Negligence can vary based on the situation and each party's role in the situation. Generally, negligence is a failure to act in a way that another person or party will have acted in the same circumstances. To win damages, you or your truck accident attorney must provide evidence supporting your case's four elements of negligence.
- A legal duty that the at-fault party owed to the injured party
- The at-fault party violated their duty
- Because of their violation, the other party suffered an injury
- The violation of the duty caused the injury (proximate cause) and damages
Respondeat Superior and Semi-Truck Accidents
Respondeat superior is a Latin term that means "let the master answer." In the legal realm, respondeat superior means that employers bear the liability for the actions of their employees when they are working under the scope of their regular job responsibilities. Under this logic, the trucking company which employs the truck driver who caused your accident is liable for your damages.
This legal premise assumes that the employee did not commit the negligent acts intentionally. For example, if a truck driver deliberately caused an auto accident, a respondeat superior will not apply. There are other situations in which it will also not apply. When you work with an experienced semi-truck accident lawyer, they can help you effectively pursue a claim against the appropriate parties.
When Is the Trucking Company Liable?
Don't assume that respondeat superior automatically applies in your case. However, if it does, you may have a better chance of recovering the compensation you deserve. This is because trucking companies usually have more funds and higher limits on their insurance policies. There may, however, be other parties that are liable for your accident.
For example, the following scenarios and many more can exist in your case:
- The truck driver is an employee of the trucking company and caused the accident while performing the duties of his employment. Under these circumstances, the trucking company often assumes responsibility for the accident, allowing a straightforward resolution and determining liability.
- The truck driver is an independent contractor working for the trucking company. In this situation, the truck driver bears all the responsibility, and it is unlikely that the trucking company is liable for your damages. Typically, these drivers have their own trucks and are responsible for maintaining them. Therefore, these contractors should carry their own insurance policies.
- The driver is an employee of the trucking company but caused the accident off the clock while taking care of personal errands. In this case, the trucking company may not necessarily be on the hook for the damages caused by the truck driver, but you should still have an attorney evaluate your options.
Why Liability Matters?
While it may seem like a blame game, who is liable for your accident is essential to your lawsuit, and those liable for your damages and injuries are responsible for making you whole again. To receive compensation, you must pursue it from the at-fault parties. A successful personal injury claim arising from a truck accident will prove that the defendant(s) owed you a duty of care and failed to meet that duty of care.
Additionally, you or your attorney must prove that you suffered damages due to their negligence.
Your damages might include:
- Past and future medical bills
- Lost income
- Decreased future earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Loss of consortium
Know Your Truck Accident Filing Deadline
The most crucial thing you must know about your legal rights after a truck accident is that your time to file a lawsuit is limited. Depending on your state, the deadline to file a truck accident lawsuit can be as few as one to two years from the accident's date.
If you don't file a legal claim within this deadline, known as the statute of limitations, or have your attorney file a lawsuit on your behalf, you will have no legal right to pursue compensation through the civil court system.
Instead, contact an attorney as soon as possible after your accident so that they can begin working on your case. Not only to have it filed on time but also to gather the evidence before it is lost or damaged.
Injured in a Truck Accident? Contact an Experienced Truck Accident Attorney Today
Truck drivers, their employers, and their insurance companies try to deny responsibility for an accident or offer a settlement for much less than a case is worth. In these circumstances, hire a truck accident lawyer. In general, accident victims who an attorney represents receive higher settlements or jury awards than those who do not.
You do not need to investigate or worry about the specifics of your accident. After a truck injury, your focus should be on your healing and obtaining aggressive legal representation.
Your personal injury attorney in San Antonio will work to determine as best as they can who caused your truck accident and who should be held liable for your damages. Once they make these determinations, they can pursue your injury claim by settling with the liable party outside of court or by litigating your case.