Supreme Court Supports Safer Trucking, Denies Truck Driver’s Sleep Apnea Case

Back in the spring of this year, the US Supreme Court declined to hear a case about sleep apnea in truckers. In this case, a truck driver with many of the risks for sleep apnea refused to undergo sleep apnea testing, and was fired from his job. He claimed that this was discrimination based on a perceived disability, but the US Court of Appeals sided with the trucking company and denied his claim. When the US Supreme Court refused to hear this case, the lower court’s ruling remained law. This is a great step toward truck driver safety. The ruling ensures that trucking companies can test their drivers for potentially dangerous health conditions and keep dangerous truckers off the road. If you or a loved one was injured in a truck accident in Texas, talk to an attorney. The Dallas truck accident attorneys at The Queenan Law Firm fight for Texans who were injured in crashes with tractor-trailers.

Sleep Apnea in Truckers

Many truck drivers are at high risk for sleep apnea. While sleep apnea is not necessarily dangerous in itself, truck drivers with sleep apnea are at a special risk for more dangerous symptoms. These truck drivers could put other drivers at risk if their untreated or uncontrolled sleep apnea leads to crashes.

Sleep apnea usually falls into one of two types: obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and central sleep apnea. With either form of sleep apnea, the patient may be unable to breathe properly while sleeping. This can mean the person wakes up often, or that the body and brain does not get enough oxygen while sleeping. With obstructive sleep apnea, the airway itself is blocked by soft tissue in the back of the throat. With central sleep apnea, the inability to breathe comes from bad signals between the brain and the lungs, which prevents the breathing function from triggering. Sleep apnea affects nearly 200,000 people per year in the US, most of which suffer from the obstructive form of sleep apnea.
Many of the risk factors for sleep apnea are especially common among truck drivers. People are at a higher risk for sleep apnea if they:

  • Are overweight
  • Are male
  • Are over 40 years old
  • Have a large neck, tonsils, or tongue
  • Suffer from acid reflux
  • Have sinus problems or allergies

Trucking is a predominately male field. On top of this, there are few options for healthy, quick meals on the road, and many truck drivers are overweight or obese.

Truck drivers typically have damaging sleep habits, which may be made worse by sleep apnea. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s “Hours of Service” rules try to keep truck drivers from running long hours without sleep, but truck drivers still face poor sleep options. Truckers may work for 14-hour days, driving 11 hours per day – and driving up to 70 hours in a week. This means long, and often odd hours.

Getting enough sleep is hard enough, but with untreated or uncontrolled sleep apnea, drivers risk enough sleep deprivation to fall0 asleep at the wheel. The effects of sleep apnea carry over into your daily life, especially sleep deprivation. Tired drivers can be as dangerous as drunk drivers. While sleep apnea is treatable with machines called CPAP machines (constant positive air pressure machines), bringing one in your truck or on prolonged trucking runs is difficult. This means truckers’ sleep apnea is often untreated or uncontrolled, increasing the risk of falling asleep on the job.

Truck Safety Rules for Sleep Apnea

Current trucking rules require every truck driver to have a medical exam and a card certifying their health and fitness to drive. This means that drivers with certain health conditions may not be cleared to drive. 49 CFR § 391.43 lays out the health requirements, ensuring that drivers must have proper vision, hearing, limb function, and must not have epilepsy or diabetes. This means that sleep apnea itself does not disqualify drivers under the federal regulations.

However, trucking companies may still refuse to hire truck drivers with sleep apnea. This appears to be what happened in this court case. Because the driver would not submit to a sleep apnea test, the trucking company fired him on the presumption that he had sleep apnea. This means trucking companies – and the Supreme Court – consider this condition dangerous enough to keep drivers with sleep apnea off the road.

Dallas Truck Accident Lawyers

The attorneys at The Queenan Firm represent injured truck drivers throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area. If you or a loved one was injured in a truck accident, talk to a Dallas personal injury attorney today. You might be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. For severe injuries like traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury, your compensation could be very high. Our principal Texas personal injury attorney, Kevin Queenan, used to work in the trucking industry and has handled dozens of high value trucking cases, so our attorneys know the trucking industry inside and out. Call (817) 476-1797 today for a free consultation on your truck accident injury case.