Several studies have shown that fatigue can impair a person’s cognitive abilities in a similar fashion as alcohol. Drowsy drivers tend to have slower reaction times, reduced alertness, and less efficient information processing. For the trucking industry, the dangerous effects of fatigue on driving performance is a major concern since the amount of time a trucker spends on the road can have a direct impact on their income—and on their employer’s profits.
Drowsy driving is a leading cause of truck accidents in the United States. If you were hurt or lost a family member in a wreck with a big rig and you believe drowsiness played a role, you may be entitled to damages. Read on to learn the answers to a few FAQs about these cases:
1. Why Is It Important to Prove the Truck Driver Was Fatigued?
Depending on the facts of your case and the available evidence, you might not have to prove the truck driver was fatigued in order to establish liability. For instance, if your vehicle was rear-ended or sideswiped or the trucker was breaking another traffic law, you wouldn’t necessarily have to prove that fatigue played a role in the accident to prove fault.
However, as any seasoned personal injury lawyer would attest, it is always essential to gather all available evidence of negligence and liability. And there are many reasons for this.
For example, if it turns out that you were also breaking a law when the crash occurred, the opposing party might assert the comparative negligence defense, arguing that your damages award should be reduced by your own percentage of fault. In this scenario, your attorney will strive to minimize the percentage of fault imposed on you, so any evidence of the defendant’s negligence could play an important role in maximizing the financial recovery.
Another reason to compile evidence of fatigue is to pursue punitive damages, if warranted. In the state of California, punitive damages may be available if a defendant acted with malice, oppression, or fraud. Malice is conduct that was done with the intent to cause injury; or despicable conduct that showed a conscious or willful disregard for the safety and rights of others. Fraud means the defendant intentionally concealed, deceived, or misrepresented a material fact that was known to the defendant and related to the harm caused in order to deprive a person of their legal rights or property rights, or to cause injury.
In the context of drowsy-driving truck accidents, it might be determined that the motor carrier acted with malice if it can be shown that drivers employed by the motor carrier were incentivized to violate the Hours of Service Regulations. Alternatively, if your attorney can prove that the trucker had been involved in a recent serious accident in which fatigue played a role, this might indicate that the trucker’s decision to continue driving while drowsy constituted a conscious or willful disregard for the safety and rights of others.
Another scenario when punitive damages might be available is if the defendant covers up evidence of an Hours of Service violation. For example, if the motor carrier or truck driver alters driving logs to conceal negligence, this may constitute fraud.
2. How Can I Prove the Truck Driver Was Fatigued?
There are many kinds of evidence your lawyer might use to prove the truck driver was drowsy. Examples include:
- Black Box Data: Most big rigs have an electronic logging device (ELD), also known as a “black box,” onboard that tracks various metrics including miles driven, engine performance, and even seatbelt use. Sometimes black box data shows that a trucker violated the Hours of Service Regulations or that the brakes were not applied before a crash, both of which can indicate that fatigue played a role.
- The Accident Report: A responding officer might have noticed symptoms of fatigue from the truck driver and recorded their suspicions in the accident report. It is also possible that the truck driver admitted to falling sleep behind the wheel.
- Toll Booth Records: Receipts from toll booths might show that the trucker had been on the road for too many consecutive hours and thus had violated HoS Regulations.
- Timestamped Bills of Lading: This is another form of evidence that might show an HoS violation.
- Eyewitness Deposition: If anyone saw the truck swerving or witnessed the driver sleeping or failing to apply the brakes before the crash, their deposition might strengthen your case.
- Dash Cam and Surveillance Footage: Video footage might show the truck swerving or the driver sleeping or nodding off.
3. Can the Motor Carrier Be Held Liable for Damages?
Sometimes it is possible to hold an employer vicariously liable for damages caused by the negligence of an employee. If the crash happened while the trucker was acting within the course and scope of their employment, the doctrine of respondeat superior might apply, meaning you would be able to name the motor carrier that employed the trucker in your claim. Depending on the circumstances, this might increase your chances of obtaining compensation for 100 percent of your damages since motor carriers tend to have robust liability insurance policies as well as significant assets. Vicariously liability would not apply, however, if the trucker was an independent contractor.
Discuss Your Case with a Long Beach Truck Accident Lawyer Today
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
Attorney Michael D. Waks has extensive experience taking on large motor carriers and their insurance companies. He has won substantial settlements and verdicts in truck accident cases of varying complexity, and he won’t charge any attorney’s fees unless he resolves the case in your favor. To schedule a free consultation, send us a message or call (562) 206-1939 to speak with a member of our team.
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