Liability of Commercial Carriers for Obesity-Related Trucking Accidents in Georgia
Most motorists have driven by a serious collision involving a tractor-trailer and wondered what caused the collision. Although passing motorists might speculate that such a collision is caused by driver fatigue, speeding, mechanical failure and similar factors, fewer people would suspect the accident was caused by truck driver obesity. However, medical conditions that are related to obesity, such as diabetes and obstructive sleep apnea can play a role in collisions involving commercial big-rigs.
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota that was published in the Accident Analysis and Prevention journal, commercial drivers with a body mass index of 35 or above were 54 percent more likely to be involved in a trucking accident. When the researchers limited the results of the study to the most serious truck crashes, obese drivers were still approximately fifty percent more likely to be involved in trucking accident resulting in serious injuries or fatalities.
Body Mass Index (BMI) calculations are based on a calculation of a person's weight in relationship to height. Those with a BMI of thirty percent or higher are considered obese while those with a BMI of 35 or above are classified as severely obese. A BMI that indicates obesity creates an elevated risk of a variety of serious health conditions according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Many of these health risks can cause temporary incapacity or a medical emergency that may contribute to a collision. Examples of the types of obesity-related medical conditions that can contribute to a semi-truck collision include:
• High Blood Pressure
• Coronary Heart Disease
• Sleep Apnea
• Cardiac Arrest
• Congestive Heart Failure
The researchers speculate that approximately 75 percent of truck crashes involving obese truck drivers are caused by sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a medical condition commonly associated with obesity that causes a person to stop breathing at intermittent intervals while they are sleeping. The disorder disrupts normal sleep patterns and decreases oxygen flow to the brain so those afflicted with the condition are prone to falling asleep during the day at unexpected times.
Because truck driver fatigue is a significant factor involved in trucking accidents, it is hardly surprising to find that a medical condition that disrupts normal sleep patterns might increase the risk of collisions involving big-rigs. This lack of sleep can result in "micro-naps" where the driver's eyes close, and he awakens moments later. While the prospect of any driver dozing off behind the wheel is a frightening proposition, the level of risk increases dramatically when the driver is behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound vehicle.
Although obstructive sleep apnea is well known within the trucking industry, commercial carriers may not exercise sufficient caution in hiring and retention of drivers to ensure that those suffering from this condition are kept off the roadways. While there are trucking companies that utilize screening processes to identify potential drivers with sleep apnea, there are others that do not implement these types of safety measures. When a commercial carrier does not properly screen and monitor drivers to ensure that they are healthy enough to safely operate a big-rig, the commercial carrier may be liable for injury or wrongful death that results from a trucking accident.
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