Shortly before dawn, a runaway semi-truck slammed into a passenger car on the freeway, killing the driver almost instantly.
According to Kentucky State Police troopers, the semi-truck driver lost control of his rig on northbound Interstate 75 near mile marker 28. The 58-year-old Toyota driver, who sustained catastrophic injuries in the crash, was declared dead at the scene.
Investigators have ruled out substance impairment as a possible cause.
First Party Liability
Note that the above wreck, which occurred during the overnight hours, involved erratic driving. These two facts often indicate that circadian rhythm fatigue might have caused the crash.
In terms of drowsy truck drivers, HOS (Hours of Service)-related crashes get most of the attention. That’s especially because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently relaxed several key rules. The FMCSA said the coronavirus pandemic was the reason, but this watchdog may have simply been bowing to industry pressure. Many drivers see HOS rules, which limit the amount of time they can drive, as overly intrusive and economically restrictive. However, that’s the subject of another blog.
Circadian rhythm fatigue might be even more pervasive. Most people are naturally drowsy late at night and early in the morning, regardless of the amount of rest they had the previous night. That’s especially true if the truck driver just hit the road after an extended layover.
Fatigue and alcohol have several things in common. Drowsy drivers and drunk drivers have slow reflexes and cannot make accurate judgements. Additionally, there is no quick fix for either impairment. Only time cures intoxication and only sleep cures fatigue. Shortcuts, like drinking coffee, are not effective.
In most jurisdictions, drowsy driving is not illegal, although it probably should be. So, a Lexington personal injury attorney must normally use circumstantial evidence to build an ordinary negligence claim.
Primary evidence in these claims includes the time of day or night, the tortfeasor’s (negligent driver’s) work/sleep schedule, and statements the tortfeasor made to third parties about drowsiness or fatigue. Additional evidence includes an inability to remember the last few miles travelled. Common questions at depositions and during trial include “What was the last mile marker sign that you saw?” and “Did you see the XYZ billboard?” Sometimes, that last question is a trick question. The XYZ billboard might or might not have been there.
A little evidence goes a long way in these claims. The burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence, or “more likely than not.”
Third Party Liability
Fair compensation in a fatal drowsy truck driver claim could easily be millions of dollars. Survivors are usually entitled to the value of lost future economic and emotional support. Additionally, commercial operators have a higher duty of care than noncommercial drivers. And as the old saying goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Unfortunately, many individual tortfeasors do not have nearly that much insurance coverage. So, based on first party liability, the victim/plaintiff usually has a choice between a risky, separate lawsuit against the individual or settling for less.
Although the driver is legally responsible for damages, the transportation or shipping company which owned the truck is generally financially responsible for damages. So, these victims have an additional source of recovery. The respondeat superior doctrine applies if:
- Employee: Most truck drivers are independent contractors or owner operators, at least for tax purposes. However, for negligence purposes, these individuals are usually employees. That’s because the company controls the driver in some way, such as the load carried or route travelled.
- Scope of Employment: Once upon a time, this respondeat superior prong was limited to things like regular delivery drivers on their regular routes. Nowadays, any act which benefits the employer in any way is usually within the scope of employment. WHen truckers are behind the wheel, they benefit employers, directly or indirectly.
Other employer liability theories, which often apply in Uber driver assault and other intentional tort claims, include negligent hiring and negligent entrustment.
Procedurally, most vicarious liability claims settle out of court. If attorneys do their homework during the evidence collection process, most companies do not want to risk a trial.
Commercial driver crash victims are usually entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no money or insurance.