How Compensation Works if You Were Injured by a Sleeping Truck Driver

Key Points:

  • While truck drivers may fall asleep at the wheel simply because they had a bad night’s rest, there may be other factors at play.
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations require truckers and their companies to adhere to numerous safety standards to help ensure the safety of other drivers. These regulations include how many hours in a day a trucker can operate a vehicle and for how long they must break.
  • Some truck drivers or companies may keep false records or unplug GPS devices to cover up driving time that exceeds state and federal regulations.

Injured by a sleepy, tired or exhausted tractor-trailer driver? If you have suffered in such a collision, or a loved-one has been hurt or killed, you may still be wondering what to do about it and which law firm to hire and investigate your case.

The Millar Law Firm specializes in catastrophic injury and death caused by the negligence of trucking companies and truck drivers. One of the most common causes of trucking accidents is driver fatigue.  Here are answers to some questions we are often asked:

  • Who is responsible if a tired trucker harms me or my family?
  • State and Federal Governments are looking out for my safety, aren’t they?
  • Truck drivers have rules about how long they can drive in a day, don’t they?
  • Why would a trucker be reckless enough to drive when he’s sleepy?
  • How can I prove that the trucker who hit me was asleep at the wheel?
  • Legal Resources, Definitions, and FAQ for Tired Truck Driving Cases

Is a Truck Driver Liable for an Accident Caused by Falling Asleep at the Wheel and Colliding with Another Vehicle?

Clearly, if a driver falls asleep at the wheel and causes an accident, they are responsible. However, other factors might also play a role, including possible multiple claims. It’s crucial to investigate why the driver was tired, such as overly long shifts beyond what the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act permits, or untreated medical conditions like narcolepsy or sleep apnea that the employer might have been aware of.

One should review the driver’s employment records and medical certification, as well as check their log books for any inaccuracies or signs of tampering, which could indicate the company’s negligence in enforcing regulations or addressing previous safety violations.

Accessing and analyzing the truck’s and company’s logs, employment files, and electronic data is vital for uncovering the truth behind the accident. This thorough examination, often conducted by a truck accident lawyer, can pinpoint how the accident happened and who is legally at fault. Our car accident lawyers specialize in these investigations and can guide you through the process of holding the responsible parties accountable.

Do Federal and State Regulations Exist to Prevent Truck Drivers from Falling Asleep at the Wheel?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), part of the Federal Department of Transportation since 2000, oversees truck and bus safety with the goal of reducing crashes, injuries, and fatalities. Alongside state regulations, the FMCSA mandates safety standards for truckers and their companies to protect public safety. Investigating commercial truck crashes involves checking the driver’s and company’s adherence to FMCSA rules, especially regarding hours of service, through paper, electronic records, and GPS data. Despite the theoretical compliance with these safety regulations, violations are common. The FMCSA limits property-carrying drivers to 11 hours of driving after 10 consecutive hours off-duty, while passenger-carrying drivers have a 10-hour driving limit. Freight drivers cannot exceed 14 hours on-duty in a day, regardless of driving time. More details on hours of service are available on the FMCSA website.

What Federal Regulations are in Place to Prevent Truck drivers from Falling Asleep While Driving?

One key component of these HOS regulations is the 11-hour driving limit, which is found under 49 CFR § 395.3(a)(3). This rule states that a property-carrying driver may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. This regulation is designed to prevent driver fatigue by limiting the amount of time a driver can operate a commercial vehicle without a substantial rest period.

Additionally, the regulation includes a 14-hour “window” rule under 49 CFR § 395.3(a)(2), which restricts drivers from driving beyond the 14th consecutive hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty. This provision ensures that drivers have a finite window in which they can complete their driving hours, further mitigating the risk of fatigue by preventing extended work periods.

These federal HOS regulations are enforced in Georgia by the state’s Department of Public Safety, alongside their own state-specific safety initiatives, to ensure that truck drivers operate safely and reduce the likelihood of accidents due to falling asleep at the wheel.

How is the Hours of Service Regulation Managed or Regulated?

The enforcement of Hours of Service (HOS) regulations in Georgia involves collaboration between federal guidelines set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and state-level enforcement by Georgia’s Department of Transportation and Public Safety. These agencies monitor and enforce compliance through audits, roadside inspections, and reviewing logbooks, significantly aided by the mandatory use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs). These devices automatically document driving hours to prevent falsification and ensure adherence to HOS rules. In Georgia, trucking companies and their drivers must follow these regulations, with many offering training to emphasize the importance of compliance. This system aims to minimize fatigue-related incidents on Georgia’s roads, promoting the safety of all motorists.

Are There Specific Laws In Georgia That Address Or Prohibit Driving While Falling Asleep At The Wheel? (For all Drivers)

Under Georgia law, driving in a condition that impairs one’s ability to operate a vehicle safely, such as being excessively fatigued or asleep, could be considered a form of reckless or negligent driving. Specifically, O.C.G.A. § 40-6-390 (Reckless Driving) prohibits driving any vehicle in reckless disregard for the safety of persons or property, which can include situations where a driver knowingly operates a vehicle while too fatigued to drive safely. This applies to all driver, including truck driver.

Does Compensation Increase if The Cause of the Accident Was a Sleeping Driver?

Falling asleep at the wheel leads to loss of vehicle control and is regarded as a form of reckless driving. While there’s no guarantee of additional compensation, proving that the driver was reckless—by choosing to drive while extremely exhausted, ultimately falling asleep, and causing a semi-truck or car accident—enhances the potential for receiving punitive damages.

Punitive damages in the context of truck accident injury claims are monetary awards that go beyond compensating the victim for their losses (such as medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering). These damages are intended to punish the defendant for particularly reckless or shocking behavior and to deter them and others from similar misconduct in the future.

Given this information, it’s crucial for your truck accident lawyer to diligently prove that the truck driver fell asleep, as this can lead to significantly higher compensation than merely establishing the driver’s fault.

The Millar Law Firm is a great resource in the Metro Atlanta Area. The firm has knowledgeable lawyers that you can trust. I would highly recommend their services to you and your family.

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Maya T.

How Does A Truck Accident Lawyer Establish That An Accident Was Caused By A Semi-Truck Driver Falling Asleep?

The key is to demonstrate that the driver was unfit to operate the vehicle at the time of the accident. For instance, if the driver was operating beyond the legally permitted hours, this is akin to driving with a suspended license — they are not legally authorized to drive such a large and potentially hazardous vehicle.

To establish the driver’s unfitness, a truck accident lawyer can gather crucial evidence through various means. Subpoenaing log books, the truck’s electronic control module (often referred to as the “black box”), GPS data transmitted to the trucking company or a third party, and other relevant documentation can decisively demonstrate the driver’s inability to drive safely. Even in cases where the data might have been tampered with or destroyed by the driver or their employer, analyzing delivery schedules, along with the dates and times of pickups and deliveries, can reveal the unrealistic speeds, progress, and hours the driver would have needed to maintain to adhere to the schedule, further supporting the claim of driver fatigue or unfitness.

FAQS About Truck Driver Fatigue Accidents

Is it difficult to prove that a truck driver was sleeping at the time of the accident?

Proving that a truck driver was asleep at the time of an accident is inherently difficult due to the absence of direct evidence, such as video footage, that can unequivocally confirm the driver’s state. The challenge often lies in gathering and interpreting indirect evidence. For instance, electronic logging devices (ELD) can indicate hours of service violations, suggesting fatigue, but they do not directly prove sleep. Eyewitness testimonies and accident reconstruction expert analyses can provide valuable insights, yet without clear evidence of sleep, these accounts and findings can only suggest, rather than conclusively prove, that the driver was asleep.
Additionally, the defense may present alternative explanations for the accident, such as mechanical issues or actions by other drivers, further complicating the task of attributing the cause solely to the driver’s sleep. Access to certain types of evidence might be restricted by privacy laws, adding another layer of complexity to proving the driver’s sleepiness. Despite these obstacles, skilled truck accident lawyers leverage a mix of evidence, including data from the truck’s electronics, witness statements, and expert opinions, to build a persuasive case that sleep and fatigue were significant factors in causing the accident.

Does an accident occurring in the middle of the night strengthen the claim that the truck driver was asleep at the time?

Yes, an accident happening in the middle of the night can indeed make the claim stronger that the truck driver might have fallen asleep. During late hours, people are naturally more tired, and this includes truck drivers despite their schedules. If a lawyer can show that the accident happened when most people are usually sleeping, it can help argue that the driver was likely fatigued or asleep. However, it’s still important to have more evidence because the time of the accident alone might not be enough to prove the driver was sleeping.

What difficulties do lawyers face when trying to prove a driver was asleep during an accident?

Lawyers face several significant challenges when attempting to prove that a driver was asleep at the time of an accident. One of the main difficulties is the lack of direct evidence; it’s rare to have clear, conclusive proof, such as video footage, showing that the driver was asleep just before the incident. Instead, lawyers often rely on indirect evidence, like data from electronic logging devices (ELDs) that track driving hours, which can suggest fatigue but not directly prove sleep. Additionally, eyewitness testimonies might not always be reliable or specific enough to confirm that the driver was asleep.
Another obstacle is the complexity of gathering and interpreting evidence that can suggest sleepiness, such as erratic driving patterns or the absence of skid marks, which indicate a lack of reaction before the crash. Lawyers also have to overcome defense strategies that might suggest other causes for the accident, such as mechanical failures or actions by other drivers. Even when there’s strong evidence of fatigue, linking it definitively to the driver being asleep at the wheel requires a sophisticated argument and often the support of expert testimony, making these cases particularly challenging to prove.

What is the maximum number of consecutive hours a truck driver is allowed to work in Georgia?

Truck drivers are permitted to drive for a maximum of 11 hours following a rest period of 10 consecutive hours off duty. Additionally, they are not allowed to drive after reaching the 14th consecutive hour of being on duty, which comes after the same mandatory 10 hours off duty. Furthermore, they are required to take a 30-minute break if they have been driving for a total of 8 hours without any interruption of at least 30 minutes.

Do FAA regulations allow truck drivers to drive for extended consecutive hours if they have a passenger assisting them?

The FMCSA’s regulations do not allow truck drivers to extend their consecutive driving hours simply because they have a passenger assisting them. The HOS rules, which limit driving hours to prevent fatigue-related accidents, apply to all commercial truck drivers equally, regardless of whether they are driving solo or with a passenger. However, team driving situations, where two drivers take turns driving and resting, can maximize the use of allowable driving hours under FMCSA regulations, ensuring continuous operation while adhering to legal HOS limits.

Legal Resources, Definitions, and FAQ for Tired Truck Driving Cases

Definition:  Adverse driving conditions

Truck drivers must take special precautions when driving in adverse conditions, which are defined under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations as meaning fog, snow, sleet, or unusual traffic or road conditions that were unknown at the time of dispatch.  49 C.F.R. 395.2.

“Driving Time” – defined

Under the FMCSA regulations, driving time is defined as the actual amount of time spent at the controls of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) while it is in operation. 49 C.F.R. 395.2.

“On Duty” Time – defined

On-Duty means all of the time from when a driver is required to be ready to work, his time working, and until he is finished working and relieved from responsibility.  Under the Regulations this means all time spent at a terminal or plant, a customer location and time spent waiting to be dispatched for a run.  This also includes time inspecting or servicing a CMV.  It does, however, exclude time spent resting in a parked vehicle or sleeper berth or up to two hours spent riding as a passenger before or after driving.   49 C.F.R. 395.2(1)-(9).

Supporting Documents for Duty Status and Driving Time Compliance

Under 49 C.F.R. 395.11 drivers and their companies must maintain and retain supporting documents that include:  bills of lading, schedules, dispatch records, receipts for expenses, electronic communication logs for fleet management systems, and payroll records, among other things.  395.11(c)(1)-(2).  The failure to maintain and retain these records can be used as evidence against the driver or trucking company of failures to comply with trucking regulations, or in some instances, evidence of tired driving or false record keeping.

Supporting Documents at Roadside Inspections, Stops and Accident Scenes

Truck drivers must be able to produce supporting documents to law enforcement and inspectors if and when they are stopped at the roadside.  The failure to have supporting documentation is a violation of the FMCSA.  49 C.F.R. 395.11(g).  In the event of a trucking accident, it is important to investigate what supporting documentation the driver had at the time of the crash.  The failure to have supporting documentation may be evidence of negligence, or even fraud, as a proximate cause of the incident.

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