A national investigation of large truck-related crashes has found evidence that improper medical certification of commercial truck drivers has directly contributed to these accidents. What is happening is drivers with serious disqualifying medical conditions are having heart attacks, strokes and other health events while driving, causing serious injuries and wrongful death.
In addition to being a violation of federal law, it is reckless disregard for the safety of others to allow a seriously ill person to get behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler or other commercial truck. In cases like this, accident victims and families may have punitive damages claims, which are claims for significant amounts of money above and beyond medical expenses and other direct losses. The goal is to punish a wrongdoer, in these cases a trucking company who has violated federal law.
Physical Examinations of Commercial Truck Drivers
Federal regulations require interstate commercial truck drivers to have physical examinations to make sure they are mentally and physically able to perform their jobs safely. The regulations specify the types of medical professionals who can perform these physicals.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is now requiring medical examiners to be trained on FMCSA’s regulations and guidelines, the CMV driver’s role, and how certain medical conditions can impair a CMV driver. It is the responsibility of both the truck driver and the trucking company to make sure that the driver is examined by a trained medical examiner and certified as healthy enough to drive.
Physically Qualified Truck Driver under Federal Law
The following is the definition of a physically qualified driver found in FMCSA regulations at 49 CFR § 391.41(b):
A person is physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if that person:
(1) Has no loss of a foot, a leg, a hand, or an arm, or has been granted a skill performance evaluation certificate;
(2) Has no impairment of:(i) A hand or finger which interferes with prehension or power grasping; or(ii) An arm, foot, or leg which interferes with the ability to perform normal tasks associated with operating a commercial motor vehicle; or any other significant limb defect or limitation which interferes with the ability to perform normal tasks associated with operating a commercial motor vehicle; or has been granted a skill performance evaluation certificate;
(3) Has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of diabetes mellitus currently requiring insulin for control;
(4) Has no current clinical diagnosis of myocardial infarction, angina pectoris, coronary insufficiency, thrombosis, or any other cardiovascular disease of a variety known to be accompanied by syncope, dyspnea, collapse, or congestive cardiac failure;
(5) Has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of a respiratory dysfunction likely to interfere with his/her ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely;
(6) Has no current clinical diagnosis of high blood pressure likely to interfere with his/her ability to operate a commercial motor vehicle safely;
(7) Has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of rheumatic, arthritic, orthopedic, muscular, neuromuscular, or vascular disease which interferes with his/her ability to control and operate a commercial motor vehicle safely;
(8) Has no established medical history or clinical diagnosis of epilepsy or any other condition which is likely to cause loss of consciousness or any loss of ability to control a commercial motor vehicle;
(9) Has no mental, nervous, organic, or functional disease or psychiatric disorder likely to interfere with his/her ability to drive a commercial motor vehicle safely;
(10) Has distant visual acuity of at least 20/40 in each eye without corrective lenses or visual acuity separately corrected to 20/40 or better with corrective lenses, distant binocular acuity of at least 20/40 in both eyes with or without corrective lenses, field of vision of at least 70° in the horizontal Meridian in each eye, and the ability to recognize the colors of traffic signals and devices showing standard red, green, and amber;
(11) First perceives a forced whispered voice in the better ear at not less than 5 feet with or without the use of a hearing aid or, if tested by use of an audiometric device, does not have an average hearing loss in the better ear greater than 40 decibels at 500 Hz, 1,000 Hz, and 2,000 Hz with or without a hearing aid when the audiometric device is calibrated to American National Standard (formerly ASA Standard) Z24.5—1951;
(12)(i) Does not use any drug or substance identified in 21 CFR 1308.11 Schedule I, an amphetamine, a narcotic, or other habit-forming drug.(ii) Does not use any non-Schedule I drug or substance except when the use is prescribed by a licensed medical practitioner who is familiar with the driver’s medical history and has advised the driver that the substance will not adversely affect the driver’s ability to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle; and
(13) Has no current clinical diagnosis of alcoholism.
Our experience is that many of the cases where a truck driver has had a heart attack, stroke or seizure involve a car being rear ended by a semi truck, a head-on collision with a truck, or a car being t-boned by a semi truck.
Attorney Eric Hageman represents accident victims and their families in serious personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits. He is a member of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Interstate Trucking Litigation Group. You should contact Eric and Fred for a free case review here.