With odd work hours, lack of sleep, strict delivery schedules and long trips, commercial motor vehicle operators are at a heightened risk of falling asleep behind the wheel. All of these factors contribute to truck driver fatigue — one of the leading causes of commercial vehicle wrecks. In fact, studies conducted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimate that 13 percent of commercial motor vehicle operators were considered to be fatigued at the time of a crash.
Driving while drowsy can be just as serious as driving while intoxicated. For this reason, the FMCSA places strict restrictions on the number of hours a truck driver is permitted to drive without break and/or rest time. Even under the current regulations, which require 10 hours of rest between 14 hours of on-duty time, truck drivers still face issues with fatigue, especially for driving during the nighttime.
A driver and their company may face punitive damages when causing an accident where a driver falls asleep behind the wheel. Punitive damages go over and above damage compensation and are assessed in order to punish tortfeasors for outrageous misconduct and to deter them and others from behaving similarly in the future.
At its face, falling asleep behind the wheel of an 80,000-pound vehicle is egregiously reckless in and of itself; however, liability in these types of crashes goes deeper. Companies intentionally create timetables or methods of compensation that force drivers to violate Hours of Service (HOS) Requirements put in place by the FMCSA. Undue pressure from trucking companies incentivizes drivers to continue driving, even when they feel fatigued or unfit to drive without resting. To make matters worse, some companies go as far as falsifying driver logs in order to cover-up HOS violations.
Given the increased risk of injury associated with driver fatigue and HOS violations, punitive damages may be awarded in these types of cases. A driver falling asleep behind the wheel of a commercial motor vehicle turns a truck into an uncontrollable, high-speed wrecking ball. Further, investigations into a company’s policies and driver logs could uncover violations of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Although punitive damages should not be expected, a strong case can be made before a jury when a driver causes a crash after falling asleep behind the wheel, especially when a driver and company make a habit of violating service hours and driving while fatigued.
Given the complexity of trucking litigation, you want an attorney experienced in trucking litigation on your side. If you or someone you know has been injured by a truck driver who fell asleep behind the wheel, call us at Bordas & Bordas for a free consultation. We will investigate violations committed by the commercial driver and company and hold them responsible for any potential damages they caused.