Beware Plaintiffs’ Attorneys Pushing Fatigue Responsibility on Carriers

Written by: Daniell R. Fink, Esq.

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are increasingly trying to push responsibility for fatigue to motor carriers, and it is therefore more important than ever for carriers to follow best practices, and have sound policies and procedures in place to monitor their drivers.

Fatigue and related claims are becoming more scientific and specific, and going beyond the traditional subjective sense of tiredness that many people associate with “fatigue.”

Inadequate sleep, extended time on duty, physical exertion, and medical conditions such as sleep apnea or insomnia are playing larger roles in fatigue actions against motor carriers.

According to a large truck crash causation study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), fatigue was found to be a primary or contributing factor in 13% of commercial vehicle collisions involving an injury or fatality.

We are also seeing more cases involving fatigue claims in other non-road/low speed situations, such as parking lots, rest stops, weigh stations and refueling stations.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has identified three main physiological factors that affect alertness, performance, and safety:

  • Amount of sleep, including acute sleep loss and sleep debt
  • Hours of continuous wakefulness
  • Circadian rhythms

Plaintiffs’ attorneys are now bringing more actions against motor carriers and their drivers to attribute additional aggravating factors to accidents.

For example, some attorneys are trying to claim that “nighttime fatigue” played a role if a truck driver was driving between evening and dawn. Other attorneys are calling on medical or sleep experts to testify that motor carriers failed to recognize sleep apnea risk factors, or fell below the standard of care by not implementing fatigue management and monitoring programs that go above and beyond federal regulations.

These tactics show that it is critical for motor carriers to have well-crafted programs and policies in place to monitor their drivers for potential signs of fatigue. Carriers must also monitor health conditions such as sleep apnea, disrupted sleep, obesity, or diabetes that may impact their drivers’ quality of sleep and thus their alertness behind the wheel.  To have the best defense in case of an accident, carriers must also ensure that their drivers are complying with hours of service limits and have proper documentation that demonstrates compliance.

In sum, the implementation of above best practices, and implementation of sound policies and procedures is the best defense to fatigue responsibility claims.