Drivers of semi-trucks, tankers, and 18-wheelers rely on their judgement, focus, and coordination to operate their vehicles safely. When a driver suffers from a medical condition that creates an impairment, he places everyone on the road at risk.
How Health Affects Driving Ability
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires that drivers be free of any condition that affects their ability to safely operate a commercial vehicle.
To receive a commercial driver's license, drivers must complete the federal Medical Examination Report. This document asks drivers to answer eight specific medical questions, self-identify 25 medical conditions, and describe any other health conditions not specifically listed.
Examples of conditions that could make a driver medically unfit include:
- Sleep apnea. People who suffer from sleep apnea stop breathing for short periods of time when they sleep. This can lead to serious daytime drowsiness. It's estimated that about 20% of truck drivers suffer from sleep apnea.
- Seizures. Seizures are electrical disturbances within the brain that lead to uncontrolled muscle movements and/or a loss of consciousness.
- Diabetes. Diabetics who are insulin-dependent can pass out, become dizzy, or experience other forms of impairment when blood sugar levels are abnormal.
- Eye problems. Conditions that affect a driver's ability to see clearly can cause him to misjudge distances or ignore obstacles in the road.
- Hearing problems. A driver who can't hear properly may not hear horns or warning signals in time to avoid an accident.
- Memory loss. Memory loss caused by age or a past head injury can be a safety risk if a driver gets lost or has trouble focusing on the road ahead.
- Cardiovascular or respiratory conditions. Truck drivers are required to self-report heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or lung disease. Drivers with these conditions may have a stroke or stop breathing behind the wheel.
- Mental health disorders. A history of anxiety or depression can affect judgement behind the wheel.
Drivers may not always be honest when filling out the Medical Examination Report, and this can cause problems. Those who are the primary breadwinner for their families or who are worried about their ability to find other employment may be tempted to omit information in order to keep their license.
Medical certifications for commercial drivers must be renewed every three years. This can lead to safety concerns when a driver develops a new impairment in the interim.
How Medical Conditions Affect Your Personal Injury Case
The fact that a commercial driver has a medical condition isn't relevant to your case if the accident was caused by unrelated factors. However, if there is evidence to suggest that driver impairment played a role, looking into the commercial driver's medical history may be necessary to build a stronger case for damages.
Evidence that a carrier allowed a commercial driver to continue working despite knowledge of a dangerous medical condition can be used to prove negligence. Carriers who are struggling to fill open positions may cut corners in the hiring process or overlook safety concerns, placing everyone on the road at risk.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Protect Your Right to Compensation
If you've been injured in an accident caused by a commercial driver, you may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. A personal injury lawyer can project your right to compensation by locating the evidence necessary to provide liability.
Although truck drivers do have a right to privacy, this right does not extend to medical conditions that may have caused an accident. A personal injury attorney can get a subpoena to request the results of employee physicals and general personnel records to look for signs of medical impairment related to the accident.
Neblett, Beard & Arsenault's awarding-winning legal team is dedicated to protecting the rights of injured Louisiana residents. We will locate evidence, document damages, and negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf, so you can focus on recovering from your accident injuries. Call today to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.