Can I Sue for an Accident Caused By a Medically Unfit Truck Driver?

It is dangerous for any driver to have a health condition that can impact their ability to safely operate a vehicle, but for a commercial truck driver who has been behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle for hours on end, the consequences can be especially catastrophic. Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires truck drivers to pass a health screening before they can obtain their commercial driver’s license, the effectiveness of this process is, at best, extremely limited. Drivers are supposed to divulge any medical conditions that could disqualify them from commercial driving, but with their jobs at stake, many drivers choose to simply not offer that information. Typically the first clue that an injured person has that the driver may have had some medical impairment or medical problem is by a review of the official accident report. In some serious accidents, a commercial truck driver will claim they suffered a medical emergency, but as experienced truck accident lawyers, we know that sometimes this is just a smoke screen because the driver was aware of their medical problem and didn’t keep it under control. All commercial truck drivers must have regularly scheduled physicals on a set basis, and in cases we handle, we will often subpoena the physicals and the medical records of a commercial truck driver, where there is some question about their medical fitness. If you were seriously injured in an accident caused by a medically unfit truck driver, you could have a valid claim for damages. Call the experienced Virginia Beach truck accident attorneys at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp to schedule your free consultation. 

What Conditions Make a Truck Driver Medically Unfit?

Truck drivers are required to be medically examined by a doctor approved by the FMCSA every two years. Based on the doctor’s findings, the driver will either be issued or denied a medical certificate. If a driver continues to operate without a valid certificate or develops a dangerous condition between exams, his medical issues could lead to a serious collision. Common medical issues that would cause a driver to be considered medically unfit and their certificate to be denied include:

Sleep Disorders

The Medical Examination Report specifically states that truck drivers are obligated to report any and all sleep disorders. A Harvard study conducted in 2016 discovered that truckers who have untreated sleep apnea are 400% more likely to be involved in accidents than truckers who do not. Other research has determined that over 20% of truckers have sleep apnea.  

Neurological Conditions

Neurological conditions that truck drivers must report include:

  • Brain illnesses and injuries
  • Epilepsy and other seizure disorders
  • Headaches, dizziness, memory loss, tingling, or numbness
  • Mini-strokes, strokes, muscle weakness, and paralysis

These neurological conditions can hinder a trucker’s ability to safely operate their rig or make the split-second decisions that are sometimes necessary when driving. 

Respiratory and Cardiovascular Conditions

Lung and heart-related conditions and medical devices that truck drivers must report are:

  • Heart attack, heart disease, bypass, and other related issues 
  • Stents, pacemakers, and any other cardiac procedures or implanted devices
  • Hypertension/Hypotension
  • High cholesterol
  • Chronic shortness of breath or cough, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other respiratory problems
  • Asthma and lung diseases 

The underlying problem with these medical conditions is that a truck driver could stop breathing or experience a stroke or heart attack while they are behind the wheel, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to come to a safe stop. 

Hearing or Vision Loss

These impairments will obviously impact a driver’s ability to safely operate a vehicle. Hearing and vision are tested at their biannual medical exam, but both are capable of deteriorating within that time frame, especially in older truck drivers.

Commercial truck accidents are challenging cases to pursue, but a skilled Virginia Beach truck accident attorney will request the driver’s medical records as part of their evidence-gathering process.

Ethical and Legal Responsibilities

The ethical and legal responsibilities surrounding a truck driver’s medical wellness are multifaceted but clear:

Truckers are required to:

  • Obey the hours of service rule
  • Inform their employers of any medical conditions
  • Never drive when impaired by injury or illness
  • Use prescription and OTC medications only as prescribed
  • Prioritize safety over the demands of their job

Carriers are required to:

  • Accommodate the hours of service rule
  • Offer paid medical leave 
  • Pay for driver health screenings
  • Offer access to rehab or counseling
  • Never coerce an ill, injured, or impaired driver to get behind the wheel

Coordinated diligence regarding compliance, disclosure, and oversight from all parties is essential to minimizing the dangers presented by truck drivers with medical issues. When these are ignored, the consequences are often serious or even fatal as truck accident statistics regretfully attest. Only a solid industry-wide commitment to medical responsibility can bring about a real improvement in safety. 

Pursuing Damages After an Accident Caused by a Medically Unfit Truck Driver  

If you were seriously injured or a loved one was killed in an accident caused by a medically unfit truck driver, you may be eligible to receive financial compensation for the losses you endured. These damages could come from the driver, their employer, an insurance carrier, or another source.  

Establishing a Driver as Medically Unfit

Proving that the driver’s medical status caused or contributed to the accident is paramount to the success of your claim. Documentation such as drug tests, medical records, accident forensics, and driving logs can substantiate claims that they were medically unfit to operate a truck. Once we develop evidence that affirms the driver’s unfitness, liability may then be assigned to: 

The Truck Driver

Bringing a claim against an individual driver comes with some challenges. Namely that:

  • Their own insurance limits are unlikely to be adequate so we often sue them as employees acting in the scope of employment for a major trucking company
  • Extensive personal assets are equally unlikely, but they will often be covered as an employee of a trucking company

Still, filing a suit against the driver is worthwhile, particularly when done in conjunction with exploring other avenues of compensation.

The Freight Company

Where serious trucking accidents are concerned, the freight company is usually the optimal target in terms of liability. Tactics that can prove company fault include:

  • Proving that the company committed negligence by allowing an unfit driver to work or by proving the driver should be treated as their employee or agent while driving a load supplied by a trucking company
  • Proving that an injured or ill driver was coerced into working 
  • Citing safety violations involving maintenance shortcuts or rest regulations 

Truck Accident Victims Need Skilled Legal Representation

Taking into account the intricate investigative and legal expertise required to successfully handle a truck accident case, partnering with an experienced Virginia Beach truck accident attorney is strongly advised. A qualified attorney can:

  • Identify all potential defendants
  • Gather important evidence such as medical records and driving records through subpoenas
  • Demonstrate factors that conclusively prove legal culpability based on state statutes and case specifics, including discovery pleadings and subpoenas of necessary evidence
  • Calculate current and projected damages by retaining expert witnesses
  • Negotiate with insurance companies and oversee any litigation

Victims who work with an experienced truck accident attorney who knows how to maximize liability arguments have the best chance at equitable restitution.

Were You Injured by a Medically Unfit Truck Driver?

If you were injured in a truck accident, whether or not the driver was medically unfit, you need to speak with an experienced Virginia Beach truck accident attorney from Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp as soon as possible. We have over 50 years of combined experience protecting the rights of clients whose lives have been disrupted by negligent trucking practices like we did when we achieved a $3.5 million wrongful death settlement for the family of a man who was rear-ended by a truck driver. To schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team, call (833) 997-1774 or fill out our simple online contact form. We have offices in Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Norfolk, Chesapeake, and Hampton.