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Michigan Truck Accident Lawyer Tip: Connection between Obesity and Sleep Apnea

May 7, 2008 by Steven M. Gursten

“What was the weight of the truck driver who caused the accident?”
This is a question that lawyers should be exploring after a new safety recommendation issued in April that could have important legal ramifications for truck accident lawyers in Michigan. The Medical Review Board of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has proposed testing overweight truck drivers for sleep apnea, and to suspend these truck drivers until they receive treatment.

Obese Drivers – More Likely to Cause Truck Accident
This recommendation could lead to one million truck drivers getting screened for sleep apnea. Fifty percent of America’s 2 million truck drivers today qualify as medically obese. Unfortunately, being overweight poses dangers not only to the truck driver, but to people on the roadway as well. Obese truck drivers are statistically more likely to cause a truck accident. The government safety recommendation is based upon findings showing that truck drivers with obstructive sleep apnea have 2.5 times greater chance of causing a truck accident over truckers without sleep apnea (Findley et al., 1988).

Grand Rapids Truck Accident – Recent Example
One of our Grand Rapids truck accident cases was in the news recently, resulting from these very circumstances. The crash took place outside of Grand Rapids, in West Michigan, where the Medical Examiners report was issued after a truck driver fell asleep and plowed into several stopped cars (including my client). The report showed the truck driver’s health history of “Sleep disorders, pauses in breathing while asleep, daytme sleepiness, and loud snoring.” The report also notes that the trucker who caused the accident is “markedly overweight” – and lists his height at 6′ 2″ and his weight at 310 lbs. He also suffers from hypertension and is on blood pressure medication. It will be very interesting to see what steps his employer took, if any, before putting him behind the wheel of a semi truck when he nearly killed my client.

Michigan Truck Accident Lawyers – Consider Employers’ Responsibility:
Lawyers need to consider the employer’s responsibility in accidents where truck drivers fall asleep, are too drowsy to react to prevent an accident, or fail to exercise good driving judgment. The additional legal causes of actions that Michigan truck accident lawyers should consider include counts for negligent hiring, negligent supervision, and negligent entrustment. Companies that choose to hire obese, medically unfit truck drivers, or who fail to monitor truck drivers for related medical conditions such as sleep apnea, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, gallbladder disease, and other sleep and respiratory problems also face increased liability. Obviously, lawyers should only consider these counts where a trucker has caused an accident involving serious injury or death.

Staying Awake Means Staying Alive:
Safe trucking companies monitor the health of drivers that they put behind the wheel. In fact, when a trucking company requires a truck driver to lose weight, and when drivers with sleep apnea are treated with a CPAP machine (continuous positive air pressure devices that are used while the driver is sleeping), the medical literature shows that the 2.5% increased risk of these truckers causing a serious accident drops back to normal levels. (George, 2001). The FMCSA’s slogan, “Staying awake means staying alive” may now mean putting one million truck drivers on a diet and testing for respiratory problems and sleep disorders such as sleep apnea.

One Million Truck Drivers to be Screened?
This recommendation may mean 1 million of America’s truck drivers should now be getting screened for sleep and weight related health issues. And for lawyers helping accident victims, it may mean holding companies accountable that knowingly put unfit drivers behind the wheel and then do nothing to monitor dangerous health issues. This safety recommendation is a clear warning to all trucking companies and drivers that more has to be done to keep drivers alert and awake to prevent accidents.

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