Truck drivers are responsible for transporting the goods that we consume across the country; without their hard work, we wouldn’t be able to buy the things we want and need as quickly and easily. Due to the nature of their work, truck drivers don’t work typical nine-to-five jobs. Instead, they spend long hours behind the wheel at all hours of the day and night to get their loads delivered on time. Many truck drivers work under high pressure from their employers to meet tough delivery schedules and deadlines, sometimes causing the drivers to exceed safety limits. Federal regulations mandate the number of hours that truckers can drive per day, but their demanding schedules and odd hours can still lead to driver fatigue, even when they abide by the federal regulations.
Driving long hours can impair a driver’s ability to stay alert and react to hazards; staying awake for 18 hours has the same effect on a person’s body as having a .08 blood alcohol concentration. In some cases, drivers might have difficulty staying awake. When truck drivers continue to drive despite feeling fatigued, the risk that they will cause a severe accident increases dramatically. The National Transportation Safety Board estimates that driver fatigue causes between 30 and 40 percent of accidents involving trucks. In some truck accidents, drivers violate hours of service laws, making it more likely that they will fall asleep while driving. Other times, drivers don’t get the rest they need even when following the law.
If you have been injured in a truck accident and believe the driver was fatigued, contact one of our experienced Nebraska trucking accident attorneys at the Robert Pahlke Law Group; call (308) 633-4444 to learn about how we may be able to help you recover damages for losses related to your injuries.
Factors That Contribute to Fatigued Driving
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that drowsy or fatigued driving most often occurs between midnight and 6:00 a.m. or in the late afternoon. Although feeling drowsy often occurs because a truck driver hasn’t had enough sleep, other factors can also contribute to an increased risk of fatigued driving, including:
- Untreated sleep issues, such as apnea and insomnia. Truck drivers, who struggle with obesity more than any other profession, are especially at risk for sleep apnea, which most commonly occurs in overweight individuals.
- Other untreated medical conditions that might cause a driver to be tired, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
- Prescription medications that might cause fatigue or drowsiness.
- Shift work, especially long hours and driving overnight.
- Truck parking shortages can result in fatigued drivers continuing to drive as they search for a place to rest.
Federal Efforts to Combat Trucker Fatigue
Truckers who drive while drowsy or fatigued continue to plague the nation’s roads. In an effort to curtail resulting accidents, the federal government has increased regulation of the trucking industry over the past few decades. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) creates standards and rules for the trucking industry and oversees safety and regulations for all commercial vehicles. Hours of service (HOS) regulations remain the single most important tool to help reduce drowsy truckers driving on the road.
The HOS rules impose restrictions on the number of hours a trucker can drive and set specific rules regarding rest. Truck drivers who hold a commercial drivers’ license (CDL) and don’t follow these guidelines not only put other motorists at risk, but also they are breaking the law. Below we discuss some of the driver safety rules that the federal government has promulgated:
- If a driver has had 10 consecutive hours off-duty, he or she may drive 11 hours in a single day.
- The 11 hours of allowed drive time cannot go beyond the 14th hour from coming on duty.
- A driver may only drive a maximum of 8 hours without at least one 30-minute break.
- A driver may not drive more than 60 hours in a 7-day period, or 70 hours in an 8-day period.
- Drivers who are close to meeting their 60- or 70-hour limit may restart the clock with a 34-hour off-duty break.
Although falsifying logbooks is a crime, truck drivers who are under tight schedules often doctor their entries to stay on the road past the point of safety. The FMCSA has made it more difficult for drivers to falsify their hours by mandating the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) for truckers who are bound by HOS regulations. As of December 2017, truck drivers who are required to keep logs must have ELDs in their trucks that record their hours of service. The ELD mandate has been controversial in the trucking industry, with opponents arguing that a driver’s alertness depends more on the time of day rather than the number of hours on the road.
Seeking Compensation After a Nebraska Trucking Accident
If you have been injured in a trucking accident because of a fatigued truck driver, Nebraska law entitles you to recover damages that are related to your injury by filing a personal injury claim against the trucker and/or trucking company. In rare cases of gross negligence, Nebraska courts might award punitive damages to punish the defendant; however, in most cases, the court only awards compensatory damages. Some of the economic and non-economic losses that you might recover in a personal injury suit include:
- Medical costs, such as ambulance and emergency services, hospital stays, radiology, medication, and more
- Future medical costs in the event of a permanent disability or long-term condition that requires around-the-clock care
- Lost wages from missing work due to an injury
- Lost earning capacity when a victim cannot return to work or must change professions because of an injury
- Pain and suffering, both physical and emotional
- Loss of consortium
- Diminished quality of life when an accident involves catastrophic injuries
- In the event that a victim dies as a result of an accident, surviving family members might be able to recover medical costs, funeral expenses, and some non-economic costs by filing a wrongful death suit.
Comparative Negligence in Nebraska Drowsy Trucker Accidents
When truckers continue to drive despite feeling fatigued, they are acting negligently. Yet, drivers don’t often admit to being tired, particularly when doing so may make them liable, so you may need a skilled legal team to gather the appropriate evidence to prove fatigue. The trucking company might also share liability with the driver if they encouraged or forced the driver to break hours of service regulations. Regardless of who is named in your suit, the defense will try to avoid paying out some or all damages. Nebraska’s modified comparative negligence law gives the defense incentive to shift the blame to the victim. Comparative negligence is the idea of shared liability in an accident.
Under pure comparative negligence, a court assigns a percentage fault to each party in a lawsuit and reduces any award to the plaintiff by his or her percentage of fault. For example, consider a scenario where a truck driver falls asleep at the wheel, crosses the center line, and causes a head-on collision. The defense may argue that the victim was speeding excessively, which caused the victim’s injuries to be far worse than they would have been if the victim had been driving the speed limit. If the court determines that the truck driver acted negligently and that the damages award constitutes $1,000,000, but also finds that the victim is 20 percent at fault for the accent, then the court will reduce the total damages award by 20 percent. This means the victim cannot collect more than $800,000 in damages.
Nebraska’s modified version of comparative negligence has a 50 percent threshold, which means that if the defense proves that the plaintiff is 50 percent or more responsible for the accident, Nebraska law bars them from collecting damages altogether. The complexities that come with increased damage and severe injuries in a truck accident, as well as Nebraska’s comparative negligence law, require the finesse and expertise of a seasoned truck accident attorney who knows how to fight against potential counterclaims and get the best possible results for your individual circumstances.
Hire a Seasoned Nebraska Trucking Accident Lawyer Today
The legal team at the Robert Pahlke Law Group has more than 85 years of combined experience representing clients in trucking accident cases. We understand that being involved in a trucking accident with a tired driver often means a head-on collision that may result in severe or catastrophic injuries, which can devastate victims and their families. When truck drivers are negligent, they deserve to be held accountable, and you deserve compensation for your pain and loss.
Being involved in a truck accident may have left you in pain and amassing medical bills; this is most likely a difficult time for you. You should retain a Nebraska personal injury attorney who you can trust to advocate for you and make sure that you secure compensation for the full cost of your injuries. Our team has earned some of the highest accolades available in the industry, including being AV® rated by Martindale-Hubbell® and being selected for inclusion in the Nebraska Super Lawyers® list for 2011 and 2012. While we cannot guarantee a favorable result in your case, you can be comforted by the fact that we will diligently pursue the best possible outcome given your circumstances.
If you were injured because of a tired truck driver, you deserve to have someone in your corner advocating for you. Call the Robert Pahlke Law Group today at (308) 633-4444, or contact us online, to schedule a free consultation with one of our experienced attorneys.