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Car Accidents

The Dangers and Legal Implications of Car Driver Fatigue

A survey conducted in the U.S. has revealed that 37 percent of drivers on the road on any given day have gotten fewer than the minimum seven hours of sleep needed for optimal function. While drivers commonly experience tiredness on the roadway, particularly during major life changes—such as a new baby at home or moving to a new location. However, for some individuals, fatigue becomes such a problem that it creates deficits in the skills needed to operate a motor vehicle safely.

If someone else’s driver fatigue injured you, you can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injury from the at-fault driver’s insurance company. An experienced attorney can seek the maximum amount of compensation available for your claim.

About Driver Fatigue

As noted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), not getting enough sleep at night constitutes just one of several causes of driver fatigue.

Other causes include:

  • The circadian rhythm, which is the body’s sleep/wake cycle. Most humans instinctively sleep during specific times of the day, such as the late afternoon and the late-night hours. Drivers most at risk of driving while fatigued tend to include those whose work schedules conflict with the circadian rhythm, including night shift or swing shift workers.
  • Long periods of inactivity or monotonous tasks that can cause the individual to feel less alert and ready to face obstacles, such as hazardous drivers.
  • Medical conditions or medications that create drowsiness. One of the most common medical conditions to result in driver fatigue is sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder in which the sufferer repeatedly stops breathing and then starts again during sleep. These pauses in breathing can last more than 10 seconds at a time and can occur hundreds of times during the night, leaving the sufferer feeling exhausted even after a full night’s sleep. Many types of prescription or over-the-counter medication and illegal drugs can cause extreme drowsiness and place an individual at risk of causing an accident, including common antihistamines, cold medicines, and pain relievers.

The Dangers of Drowsy Driving

When one discusses drowsy driving accidents, the first notion that comes to many people’s minds is that the driver fell asleep while behind the wheel of a tractor-trailer and caused an accident. While driver fatigue does constitute a constant source of concern in the trucking industry, many other industries require workers to remain on the job during the nighttime hours, and driver fatigue is a real concern for the operators of any vehicle on public roadways. Falling asleep behind the wheel is, without a doubt, one of the hazards of drowsy driving that can result in a loss of vehicle control. However, this does not constitute the only risk involved when someone drives a car while fatigued.

According to the Sleep Foundation, after 18 consecutive hours without sleep, an individual experiences deficits similar to those with a blood alcohol content of 0.05. This is legally impaired for most drivers (though it is for truckers), but drivers would notice these skills eroding. After 20 consecutive hours without sleep, the impairment experienced is similar to that of a driver who has reached the legal alcohol impairment limit of 0.08 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood.

Some other dangers of car driver fatigue include:

  • Slowed reaction times to emergency driving situations. One of the most startling features of a fatigued driving accident that an investigation reveals is the complete or near-complete lack of braking that occurred before the collision.
  • Impacted ability to make decisions.
  • Difficulties with vision, including the ability to track moving targets, tunnel vision in which the driver struggles to focus on objects in their periphery, and depth perception.
  • An inability to stay focused on the task of driving safely.
  • The inability to recall the last several minutes or several miles of the journey.
  • Difficulty maintaining one lane of travel, which causes the fatigued driver to swerve in and out of the lane.
  • Difficulty controlling one’s speed or maneuvering the vehicle.
  • Missing signs or exits.
  • Excessive yawning.
  • Restlessness, irritability, and even aggressiveness when driving.

How Your Attorney Will Prove That Your Accident Resulted From Driver Fatigue

From the moment you begin working with an experienced car accident attorney, they will begin protecting your right to claim compensation. That may seem like a dramatic way to phrase the work your attorney does to assist with your claim. However, you must file the claim with an insurance company. It has an adjuster on staff it hired for the sole purpose of helping the company avoid large payouts to those the insured party injured.

To protect your claim from whittling down to an unacceptable level of compensation or even having the insurance adjuster convince you that the low settlement offer is the most you will get, your attorney will handle communications with the adjuster while finding the best evidence available to prove your claim.

Some types of evidence that you can use to prove that you sustained injuries in an accident caused by someone else’s driver fatigue include:

  • The police report from the accident scene. Generally, a police officer will interview all drivers involved in the accident and all witnesses on the scene to piece together a narrative of how the accident occurred. Often during these conversations, a fatigued driver will exhibit symptoms that will direct the officer’s line of questioning to include asking how long it was since the driver slept. Additionally, witnesses will often report that the driver was weaving before the accident or appeared to be sleeping.
  • The work schedule of the at-fault party that reveals that they worked a night or swing shift.
  • The black box—known as the Event Data Recorder—on the at-fault driver’s vehicle, if it has one. Black boxes only became required on vehicles manufactured and sold in the U.S. in 2014. These devices record information about the driver’s behavior before the accident, including the vehicle’s speed at the time of the accident, whether the driver braked before the collision occurred, and how much force the driver applied to the brakes. A lackluster brake response could serve as another indication of driver fatigue.
  • The diagnosis of medical conditions—such as sleep apnea—that can impact the quality of sleep a person receives.
  • The results of post-accident drug and alcohol screenings that can reveal the presence of prescription and over-the-counter drugs or even illicit drugs capable of producing dangerous fatigue.

Can a Driver Bear Liability for Fatigue Caused by Sleep Apnea?

Yes, a driver can bear liability for a fatigued driving accident even if the fatigue resulted from a medical condition, such as sleep apnea.

Other types of medical conditions that can also result in fatigue include:

  • Narcolepsy, a chronic sleep disorder in which the sufferer experiences overwhelming daytime drowsiness and a sudden or unpredictable need to sleep.
  • Restless leg syndrome, a condition that produces an uncontrollable urge for the sufferer to move the legs, particularly during the evening hours or when sitting or laying down.
  • Insomnia, a sleep disorder in which the sufferer can’t fall asleep or has difficulty staying asleep.
  • Shift work sleep disorder, which can affect people working non-traditional hours.

Drivers must operate their vehicles reasonably and prudently. They must recognize the signs of driving fatigue and know when they do not feel healthy or alert enough to drive.

Why Does It Matter if the Driver Was Fatigued?

If you seek compensation for injuries and property damage sustained in a car accident, one of the most important aspects of your claim is your ability to prove that another party bears liability for the accident. Drivers have a responsibility to ensure that they feel safe to drive before they get behind the wheel. Although many drivers who have been found liable for fatigued driving accidents claim that they did not know that their exhaustion had reached the level of impairing their driving, the failure to know that they could not safely drive does not release them from legal liability for the accident.

The Elements of Liability

Proving liability for an accident that resulted from car accident fatigue involves satisfying these three elements in your claim:

  1. The at-fault party had a duty to take reasonable actions to avoid causing harm to other people and their property. All drivers must operate their vehicles safely and in a manner that does not endanger other roadway users.
  2. The at-fault party breached the duty of care. The breach likely occurred when the at-fault party drove the vehicle while experiencing driver fatigue. Driving while fatigued produces deficits in the skills that an individual needs to operate a vehicle safely.
  3. This breach resulted in a fatigued driving accident in which you became injured and incurred expenses and psychological impacts as a result.

The Type of Compensation You Can Seek After a Fatigued Driving Accident

Individuals who have sustained injuries in accidents that feature car driver fatigue can seek the recovery of both economic and non-economic damages. In other words, you can seek compensation (damages) for the expenses (economic) and impacts (non-economic) of the injuries you sustained.

Some of the common expenses and impacts that those who have sustained injuries in fatigued driving accidents claim include:

  • Medical expenses, such as the cost of ambulance transport, emergency services, diagnostic testing, physician and surgical services, prescription medication, hospitalization, the provision of assistive devices such as crutches, a wheelchair, or even a prosthetic limb, physical therapy, and rehabilitation.
  • Lost wages from time away from your job as a result of being too injured to work.
  • Lost earning capacity if your injury results in permanent disabilities that impact your ability to earn an income.
  • Property damage you incurred in the accident, such as the cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle.
  • Physical pain and suffering resulting from the injuries themselves or particularly intense medical treatments required due to the severity of your injuries. We should note that if you experience medical complications from your injury that require treatment, you can seek compensation for those as well.
  • Emotional distress.
  • Loss of the enjoyment of life if your injury prevents you from partaking in hobbies and activities you formerly enjoyed.
  • Loss of consortium, which is a damage collected on behalf of an injured person’s spouse for the loss of physical intimacy and companionship often experienced after serious injuries, such as those often sustained in car fatigued driving accident claims.

Injured by a Fatigued Driver? An Experienced Attorney Can Help

The personal injury claims process often proves overwhelming and confusing to those who have not spent years obtaining a law degree or building a reputation as a personal injury lawyer.

Perhaps you do not feel that you sustained serious enough injuries to require the services of an attorney and wage a serious effort to obtain compensation, or maybe you feel worried about the cost of hiring an attorney.

Let an attorney put your worries to rest by requesting a free case evaluation, during which you can discuss the details of your accident, ask questions about your legal options, and determine your eligibility to pursue compensation for the full cost of your injuries.

For your free case evaluation, contact an experienced car accident attorney online. Don’t hesitate; reach out today to begin your path toward justice and compensation.