Each year in the United States, around 4,000 people die in accidents involving commercial trucks, and many thousands more suffer serious, life-altering injuries. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the federal agency tasked with overseeing the nation’s trucking industry, 13 percent of the truck drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents report suffering from fatigue at the time of the crash.
If you have suffered an injury in an accident caused by truck driver fatigue, you can seek compensation through a truck accident lawsuit. You should reach out to an experienced truck accident attorney to discuss your legal options and determine your eligibility to pursue compensation.
What Is Truck Driver Fatigue?
Truck driver fatigue is a state of mental or physical exhaustion that affects a driver’s performance. Fatigue often affects truck drivers who have not had the recommended six to eight hours of sleep necessary for optimal function. However, fatigued driving can result from other factors too.
Symptoms of truck driver fatigue include:
- The driver is frequently yawning and has an increase in blinking.
- The driver is drifting into other lanes or is driving on the rumble strips on the edge of the road.
- The driver cannot remember the last few miles of the journey.
- The driver misses an exit or is following others too closely.
- The driver has difficulty maintaining his or her speed.
Why Drowsy Truck Drivers Are Dangerous
Commercial trucks are massive vehicles, often weighing 20 to 30 times more than the average passenger car and featuring a much longer body that creates maneuverability concerns. Because of the vehicle’s size, the vast majority of the injuries and deaths that occur due to an accident involving a commercial truck are incurred by the passengers of other vehicles on the roadway.
Drowsiness impairs an individual’s ability to safely operate a motor vehicle in many ways that are similar to the effects of alcohol impairment.
These effects include:
- A decrease in the ability to pay attention to the roadway. Again, the large size of a commercial motor vehicle makes it harder to maneuver. Commercial trucks also have significant blind spots on all four sides, giving the driver even more reason to stay fully alert and engaged with the task of driving safely.
- A slower reaction time when in emergency driving situations, such as when the driver has to brake suddenly to avoid a hazard in the roadway.
- The ability to make good decisions may decrease.
Drowsiness also poses the risk that the driver will actually fall asleep and struggle to control the vehicle.
Causes of Truck Driver Fatigue
While many people think that fatigue is only an issue if a driver has not had enough sleep, several other factors can cause truck driver fatigue.
Here is a look at some of the more common causes of fatigue:
Working at Night
Many truck drivers choose to work at night when traffic is lighter. However, driving through the night interferes with the circadian rhythm, which is the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. The circadian rhythm causes most individuals to have an instinctive desire to sleep during the nighttime hours.
For most people, the transition between sleeping and being fully awake and mentally alert takes about 30 minutes. The sleeper berth in a commercial truck allows the driver to pull over and sleep in his or her vehicle and then quickly get back to driving after he or she awakens. Problems can arise, however, when the individual begins driving before the transition into wakefulness is complete. A study conducted by the FMCSA revealed that the highest incidence of commercial truck-involved accidents occurs within one hour of when the driver wakes up and begins driving.
Sleep inertia can impair the driver’s short-term memory. It can also reduce vigilance, cognitive function, reaction time, and the ability to resist sleep.
Sleep apnea is a breathing-related sleep disorder that causes temporary pauses in an individual’s breathing. These pauses can last up to ten seconds and can occur hundreds of times a night, leaving an individual feeling as though he or she is not well-rested, even after a full night’s sleep.
The symptoms of sleep apnea include:
- Loud snoring
- Gasping or choking when sleeping
- Headaches and nausea in the morning
- Loss of sex drive
- Excessive sleepiness in the daytime hours
- Concentration and memory problems
- Frequent urination at night
Truck drivers with sleep apnea can still drive, provided they have obtained treatment and a doctor has stated that the condition does not impair his or her ability to operate a commercial truck safely.
Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medications
Seventeen percent of commercial truck drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents reported using over-the-counter medications at the time of the crash. While truck drivers are regularly screened for the use of alcohol and some types of illegal drugs, many drivers fail to realize that common prescription and over-the-counter medications can also cause drowsiness. Common culprits include medicines taken for allergies and sinus congestion.
Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the cornerstones to feeling mentally and physically prepared for the day. Truck drivers often have difficulty eating healthy, well-balanced meals. Going without food or without the food your body needs for fuel can result in fatigue and can prevent the driver from getting restful sleep.
Hours of Service Violations
Due to widespread concern regarding the dangers posed to the general public by fatigued truck drivers, the FMCSA passed hours of service regulations to curb the issue. These regulations control how long a driver may work before taking a break.
The requirements for drivers who are transporting goods include:
- An 11-hour driving limit after 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time, or two periods of off-duty time equaling at least 10 hours, in which they spend seven consecutive hours in the sleeper berth.
- The driver cannot drive after the 14th consecutive hour on-duty without having had at least 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time.
- Drivers must take a 30-minute break after eight cumulative hours of driving without a 30-minute interruption.
- Drivers cannot work more than 60 hours every seven days or 70 hours every eight days. The seven- or eight-day work period begins only after the driver has had at least 34 hours of consecutive off-duty time.
- The 11-hour and 14-hour driving periods may extend in adverse weather conditions.
Obtaining Compensation After a Truck Accident
If you sustained an injury in an accident caused by truck driver fatigue, you can obtain compensation for your out-of-pocket expenses and the impacts to your quality of life that the injury caused. A truck accident lawsuit can prove who caused the accident and establish your expenses and impacts.
The vast majority of truck accident lawsuits, resolve before the case makes it to trial. The method of resolving many of these cases is through a settlement negotiated between the at-fault party’s insurance provider and the injured individual’s attorney. However, because some of these cases do in fact make it to trial, so hire an attorney who is confident and comfortable litigating your case all the way to trial.
Liability for Accidents Caused by Truck Driver Fatigue
Proving who caused your accident is the foundation for a successful outcome in your truck accident lawsuit.
In cases involving truck driver fatigue, sources of liability can include:
- The truck driver who chose to operate a motor vehicle when unable to do so safely due to fatigue.
- The trucking company that hired the driver and must ensure that the driver can safely perform the job.
- The doctor who medically cleared the driver to drive, if the doctor knew or should have known that the driver suffered from sleep apnea or another medical condition that could result in fatigue and make it unsafe for him or her to drive, and failed to treat the condition before medically clearing the driver.
To prove liability, you must show:
- The at-fault party owed you a duty of care. The duty of care defines how a reasonable person would act in a similar set of circumstances. For example, the truck driver owes you a duty to operate his or her vehicle safely and legally.
- The at-fault party breached the duty of care. The breach is the action that the driver or other at-fault party took that violated the duty of care, such as working while fatigue impaired his or her ability to drive safely.
- The breach resulted in the accident, which caused your injuries and made you incur expenses and impacts to your quality of life.
Damages refer to the payment made in a civil suit intended to compensate victims for their injuries and losses.
You can seek the recovery of both economic and non-economic damages through a truck accident claim for:
- The cost of medical treatment.
- The wages you lost because your injury prevented you from working.
- The inability to return to work or earn in the same capacity as you did before the accident.
- The cost of repairing or replacing the vehicle you were driving when the accident occurred.
- Physical pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of the enjoyment of life, if your injury prevents you from participating in activities you formerly enjoyed.
- Loss of consortium, which is compensation collected on behalf of the injured person’s spouse for the loss of physical intimacy and companionship that often accompanies a severe injury.
Did You Lose a Loved One?
The occupants of other vehicles are at the greatest risk of a severe injury or even death because of a truck accident. If you have lost a spouse, child, parent, or another family member who you were wholly or partially dependent on for support, you can obtain compensation through a wrongful death claim.
Eligible family members can recover:
- The value of support and services provided by the deceased to his or her family members.
- Loss of companionship and protection.
- The mental and emotional pain of losing a child.
- Medical or funeral expenses paid for directly by the family member.
- Lost wages and benefits the deceased could have reasonably earned through his or her career if he or she would have survived.
- Lost prospective net accumulations of the estate.
Contact a Truck Accident Attorney Today
Truck accidents are complex and lawsuits that stem from them are often complicated. Successfully recovering compensation will depend on a truck accident lawyer who understands the legal process and the evidence you need to prove your case. You should retain an experienced trial attorney who has successfully negotiated and litigated truck accident cases. Let your attorney deal with the complex legal process while you focus on your physical and mental recovery. Your attorney will pursue maximum compensation on your behalf and protect your rights in court.
If you suffered injuries in an accident caused by truck driver fatigue, contact an experienced truck accident attorney to discuss your injuries, determine your eligibility to pursue compensation, and evaluate your legal options.