With a population of more than a million and people traveling from all over the world to visit the capitol district, Albany is an area very reliant on the amenities it provides to its residents and guests. Most of the products relied on in Albany were brought here by truck. Unfortunately, many of the drivers who travel the roadways in and around Albany arrive exhausted after a long journey. That exhaustion can lead to a dangerous or even deadly truck accident.
If you have been injured in an accident with a commercial truck and have reason to believe that the truck driver was fatigued at the time of the crash, you will likely hear a lot of excuses as to why that fatigue occurred. However, even though the driver did not mean to cause an accident by driving while drowsy, it does not erase the liability or the need for compensation that you are likely experiencing due to the expenses and quality-of-life impacts of your injury.
What Is Truck Driver Fatigue?
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, fatigue is the result of physical or mental exertion that impairs performance. An estimated 13 percent of all commercial truck drivers involved in an accident while working are fatigued at the time of the crash.
Fatigue produces many deficits to the skills needed for safe driving that mimic the deficits created by alcohol impairment, including:
- Slower reaction times to changes in the roadway conditions such as additional traffic or pedestrians.
- Difficulty maintaining one lane of travel.
- The inability to multitask or focus on more than one thing at a time, such as “tunnel vision” in which the driver is only focused on what is taking place in front of him or her, while neglecting what is going on in his or her periphery.
- Short-term memory loss, such as forgetting the last several miles that were driven.
One of the biggest risks of truck driver fatigue is that the driver will fall asleep while driving, resulting in a crash involving a vehicle that is 20-30 times larger than other vehicles on the roadway. Additionally, fatigued truck drivers can have microsleeps, which are brief periods of unconsciousness experienced while driving that can last anywhere from a fraction of a second up to thirty seconds.
What Is It About Albany Makes Truck Drivers Sleepy?
Nearly three-quarters of the nation’s freight is moved from one area of the country to another by commercial trucks, making the trucking industry a vital part of our economy. However, these massive, hard-to-maneuver vehicles present hazards, not the least of which is truck driver fatigue. Truck drivers are on the job for many long hours at a time, often sleeping inside their trucks on the side of the highway when they are off duty.
Many factors can lead to truck driver fatigue or make the problems it presents far worse, but some of those factors are unique to Albany, such as:
- Inclement weather. The humid climate of Albany features wet, snowy winters that can cause a driver to be on the road for longer than intended as traffic slows down or even stops for accidents ahead. Driving an eighteen-wheeler on wet, slippery roads can also lead to mental fatigue as the driver focuses intensely through the storm on keeping his or her truck from sliding into another vehicle or jackknifing.
- Traffic congestion. As the capital city of New York, and with more than a million people living inside of its limits, Albany sees its share of traffic congestion. Like inclement weather, congestion can make for slower travel, placing stress on a driver who is tied to a delivery deadline.
- Location: In the far northeast corner of the nation, New York is often several days’ drive from shippers located in California or Texas. These two states are the top exporters of products in the nation, and many of those products are brought to Albany by truck, making for long, hard trips for the drivers.
Other Common Sources of Truck Driver Fatigue
Other common sources of truck driver fatigue across the nation include:
- Sleep inertia: A truck driver’s highest risk of causing a crash occurs within the first hour of driving, particularly if he or she began driving after spending off-duty hours sleeping in the truck’s sleeper berth. Sleep inertia refers to impairment in performance in a variety of tasks needed for driving a commercial truck safely, such as short-term memory, vigilance, cognitive functioning, reaction time, and the ability to resist sleep.
- Circadian rhythm: The human body is generally wired to be awake during the daytime hours and asleep during the nighttime hours. This is known as the circadian rhythm. Many truck drivers choose to work during the late-night hours when there is less traffic. However, this places the driver at risk of having a crash due to fatigue caused by the disruption of the body’s instinctual need to sleep during the night.
- Sleep apnea: Sleep apnea is a breathing-related sleep disorder that causes brief interruptions of breathing during sleep. These pauses in breathing can last more than 10 seconds and can occur up to 400 times a night, leaving an individual feeling sleepy even if they have had the recommended six to eight hours of sleep needed by most people each night. The FMCSA estimates that about 28 percent of all commercial truck drivers in the U.S. suffer from sleep apnea, which is more common in older individuals who are overweight and engage in smoking or alcohol use.
- Lack of a proper diet: In the pandemic, truck drivers found themselves short on two very necessary items: bathrooms and food. Shut down orders and other pandemic restrictions resulted in many rest areas being closed down along with restaurants. Drive-through windows were open but truck drivers often couldn’t access the window in their trucks. As the restrictions lightened, truck drivers found themselves with more options. However, many drivers fail to consume proper nutrition, which can lead to fatigue and exacerbate sleep problems.
- Medications: While truck drivers are subject to random drug and alcohol screenings, these tests fail to detect the use of many popular over-the-counter, prescription, or illegal drugs that can cause a driver to experience fatigue. On over-the-counter and prescription medication with this known effect, there is generally a warning label stating that it is not safe to drive or operate machinery while using the medication.
Commonly Asked Questions From Victims of an Accident With a Fatigued Truck Driver
The process of seeking compensation for injuries obtained in an accident involving a commercial truck is often a complex and even overwhelming one for individuals whose primary focus must be their own recovery from injuries. Here are some of the questions most commonly asked about accidents involving fatigued truck drivers.
What is the process of obtaining compensation for my injuries?
You could seek compensation for the injuries you sustained in a truck accident through a truck accident lawsuit. In Albany, plaintiffs generally must file this claim within three years of the date on which the accident occurred.
A truck accident lawsuit seeks to satisfy two requirements:
- To show who is liable (legally responsible) for causing the injury. Liability is proven by showing that the truck driver owed you a duty of care, that his or her fatigue was contrary to the duty of care that was owed, and that this contrary action resulted in the accident which caused your injury.
- To show the expenses and impact of your injury to justify the damages you are seeking. In the legal arena, the word “damage” refers to a payment made in compensation for harm.
What can I be compensated for?
In Albany, individuals who have been injured by a fatigued truck driver could pursue both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages refer to compensation for the expenses of your injury, such as medical expenses, wage loss, loss of future earning capacity, and property damage such as the cost of replacing or repairing your vehicle that was damaged in the accident. Non-economic damages refer to compensation for the ways your injury has impacted your quality of life, such as physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, or loss of the enjoyment of life.
What kind of evidence is needed to prove that the accident was caused by truck driver fatigue?
Your truck accident attorney may look at the driver’s most recent physical examination for medical reasons for the fatigue, such as sleep apnea. He or she will also want to look at the driver’s hours of service to ensure that the driver was taking the amount of off-duty hours as prescribed by law. The evidence from the crash scene and investigation will be evaluated to reveal statements made by the driver, and results of any mandatory toxicology testing after the accident will be requested for the presence of substances such as medications that can cause fatigue.
What are some factors that will impact the value of my truck accident case?
Several factors could affect the value of your case, depending on the circumstances.
Those factors include:
- The severity of your injury. The more severe your injury is, the more likely you are to face higher medical expenses, more time away from work, more physical pain and suffering, and a greater chance of permanent disabilities that can result in a reduction to your earning capacity.
- The clarity of liability. In New York, you can be partially liable for the accident that caused your injuries and still seek compensation from another liable party. However, the value of your case will be reduced to reflect your level of responsibility.
- Whether the driver was self-employed. Many drivers own their trucks and work on a contract basis, handling meeting the federal requirements on their own. Other drivers are employees of a trucking company. Because of the vicarious liability that the employer of a driver has, cases involving drivers employed by a company often present more liable parties and more insurance resources that can be accessed to compensate you.
- Your own patience. The vast majority of truck accident cases resolve out of the courtroom. One common resolution to this type of case is the settlement process, in which the attorneys for both sides negotiate a compensatory amount that each side’s client agrees to. While it is not unusual to receive a settlement offer very early after a truck accident caused by driver fatigue, getting a settlement offer that fairly reflects the expenses and impacts you have incurred is another matter. Often the fairest settlement offer does not come until just before the case goes to trial.
I cannot afford a lawyer. Can’t I just file the claim on my own?
The process of gathering evidence, negotiating a settlement, or even understanding the types of quality-of-life impacts that merit compensation, can overwhelm most individuals.
A truck accident attorney would not only understand the law and the measures to protect your right to compensation for your injuries, but also the often catastrophic nature of injuries resulting from accidents with a commercial truck.
Take advantage of a free, no-obligation case evaluation that most truck accident attorneys offer, obtain answers to your legal questions, and learn more about the services that a truck accident attorney can provide for you. Contact a truck accident attorney today to get started.
Mr. Finkelstein is the Managing Partner of Finkelstein & Partners, LLP. He has become a noted consumer activist through his representation of injured individuals against corporate wrongdoers and irresponsible parties.
An accomplished litigator, Mr. Finkelstein has represented Plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic personal injury cases. He has successfully handled dozens of multi-million dollar cases.