The Supreme Court recently denied a truck driver’s appeal of a claim against his trucking company employer that testing him for sleep apnea would violate his rights under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). This is great news for other drivers and truck accident victims, since it is an indication that trucking companies are taking sleep apnea seriously, and the government is supporting that effort.
Sleep apnea is a huge risk for truck drivers and truck safety, and it puts other drivers across the country at risk. The national truck accident attorneys at the Reiff Law Firm’s The Truck Accident Team help injured truck accident victims get compensation for their truck accident injuries. Our lawyers work to hold negligent trucking companies liable for the injuries their drivers cause, and to exercise your rights as a victim.
How Sleep Apnea Causes Accidents
If sleep apnea is properly managed, it can be relatively safe. Unfortunately, for truck drivers who often sleep irregular hours on the road, management is especially difficult. Moreover, the risk factors for sleep apnea causing an accident are greater for truck drivers than they are for most people.
Sleep apnea is a disorder that affects one’s ability to maintain oxygen flow while sleeping. Sleep apnea takes two forms: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea. These both stop you from breathing, but obstructive sleep apnea is usually caused by something blocking the throat while you sleep, whereas central sleep apnea is a neurological disorder where the brain fails to trigger breathing functions.
OSA is the far more common version of sleep apnea. Usually, it affects people who are male, over the age of 40, overweight, have acid reflux, and have a family history of sleep apnea. Many of these factors describe the average truck driver. Often, sitting for long hours in a truck cab and eating fast food on-the-go lead to overweight drivers – many of which are statistically male. That puts truck drivers at especially high risk of sleep apnea.
To properly treat sleep apnea, people with the disorder usually sleep with a breathing mask attached to a “CPAP” machine. These Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machines work to put pressurized air into the airway while sleeping to help push past obstructions in the throat and keep oxygen flowing. Sleeping with one of these machines in a truck cab or carrying it from motel to motel would be an extreme hassle and inconvenience.
Because truck drivers often cannot access their CPAP machines – if they have one – their apnea goes untreated. This means their sleep is often lacking, especially if their apnea wakes them up often. When drivers drive tired from sleep apnea, they could fall asleep at the wheel. Untreated sleep apnea can also lead to forgetfulness and mood changes, which could be unsafe for drivers who need to stay focused on the road.
What the Supreme Court Ruling Means for Trucking Safety
With this ruling in place, trucking companies now have more leeway to test drivers for sleep apnea and weed-out drivers whose untreated apnea might affect their road safety. The plaintiff truck driver in this case argued that, when his employer tested him for sleep apnea, he was discriminating on the basis of a “perceived disability.” This is illegal under the ADA. He claimed that choosing to test him for sleep apnea because he was overweight was discrimination. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case, meaning the Circuit Court’s ruling that it was not discrimination stands.
What this means is that truck companies may now pick drivers with a high risk of sleep apnea and test them for the disorder. This kind of screening can prevent them from putting dangerous drivers on the road.
As it stands, trucking companies can be held accountable for making bad decisions when hiring drivers or keeping them on staff. This means that if they hire a driver with a history of DUI/DWI or a bad driver’s history, they can be held accountable for accidents after putting that dangerous driver on the road.
To see that trucking companies are actually taking steps to weed-out drivers with dangerous conditions is excellent news. It shows not only that trucking companies are making a stronger effort to put safe drivers on the road, but that the government is supporting that effort. Hopefully, this trend will continue and trucking companies will take further steps to ensure that their drivers follow best practices for road safety and follow government trucking regulations,
Sleep Apnea Truck Accident Attorneys
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident caused by a tired or drowsy truck driver, talk to an attorney today. You might be entitled to compensation from the trucking company who put an unsafe driver with a diagnosed condition behind the wheel. For a free consultation on your case, call the Reiff Law Firm’s The Philadelphia Truck Accident attorneys today. Our number is (215) 709-6940.