Investigators suspect that driver fatigue might have contributed to a late-night crash on Highway 27 which killed two people.
Few details were available about the wreck, which occurred in Lincoln County. 40-year-old Tanessa Cole, of Waynesburg, was northbound on Highway 27 and 23-year-old Callie Young, of Somerset, was southbound when their two vehicles collided.
The two women died almost instantly.
Fatigue and alcohol affect the body and brain in roughly the same way. Driving after eighteen consecutive hours without sleep, which is the equivalent of a long day at the office and a quick dinner out, is like driving with a .05 BAC level. In many cases, that’s above the legal limit in Kentucky.
Much like alcohol, fatigue impairs motor skills and the thought process. Fatigue also clouds judgement ability, so many tired tortfeasors (negligent drivers) take unnecessary risks when they are behind the wheel.
Alcohol and fatigue have something else in common. There is no quick cure for either condition. Only time cures alcohol impairment, and only sleep cures fatigue. Shortcuts, like cranking up the radio or air conditioner, might make drivers feel more alert for a few minutes. But these things do nothing to address the underlying problem.
Typically, drowsy driving crashes occur on highways. The speed of the vehicles significantly contributes to the seriousness of the injuries. According to Newton’s Second Law of Motion, speed multiplies the force in a collision between two objects.
Drowsy driving is not against the law. So, victim/plaintiffs must use circumstantial evidence to establish a lack of ordinary care. This evidence often includes:
- Time of Day: Most people are naturally drowsy early in the morning or late at night, regardless of how much rest they had the previous night. Many semi-truck, tour bus, and other large vehicle operators are behind the wheel at these times. That’s why driver fatigue is often a factor in truck accidents.
- Tortfeasor’s Statements: Many tortfeasors freely admit that they were very tired or even fell asleep behind the wheel. These statements are usually, but not always, admissible in court.
- Driving Mishaps: There are a number of reasons that people drive erratically, and fatigue is one of those reasons. Additionally, tired drivers often cannot remember the last few miles they drove.
- Medical Records: Approximately twenty million adults in the United States suffer from sleep apnea. People with this condition get little, if any, deep, restorative sleep at night. So, even if they got a full eight hours, they are dangerously fatigued. Current sleeping pill prescriptions also indicate the driver has a problem with fatigue.
Most noncommercial operators have a duty of reasonable care. They must drive defensively and avoid accidents if possible. Most commercial operators have a higher duty of care.
A little evidence goes a long way toward establishing a breach of care. The burden of proof in civil court is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
The Last Clear Chance Defense
Head-on crash claims often involve this legal loophole. As mentioned, all drivers have a duty of care to avoid accidents when possible. Another driver’s misconduct does not alter this duty.
Assume Driver A crossed the center line and collided with Driver B. Emergency responders would almost certainly fault Driver A for the crash. Yet if Driver B saw Driver A coming and did nothing to stop the crash, Driver B might be legally responsible for the wreck. That’s a rather significant “might.”
There is a difference between wrong-way crashes and head-on crashes. If a driver is operating on the wrong side of the road, other drivers should be able to avoid an accident. But if the driver is operating erratically and drifts over the line, such an accident is almost impossible to avoid.
Traffic, weather, and other conditions sometimes come into play as well. In many cases, an emergency maneuver like a sudden stop might cause a worse wreck than the one it might have prevented.
Drowsy drivers often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. You have a limited amount of time to act.