Who is Liable if the Driver Falls Asleep at the Wheel?
Even if their circumstances are understandable, drivers who fall asleep at the wheel are still engaging in negligent behavior, putting others at risk.
By Tom Metier
3 min read
Drivers who fall asleep at the wheel may be under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol, but they could just as easily be stressed, overworked or in the middle of a long drive. Even if their circumstances are understandable, drivers who fall asleep at the wheel are still creating a dangerous environment and putting other drivers at risk. All drivers on the road have an obligation to drive safely and look out for the safety of others, which is called the driver’s “legal duty of care.” If you fail to fulfill this duty and cause an accident, the law says you can be held liable.
How Can I Prove a Driver Fell Asleep at the Wheel?
It is law enforcement’s job to document the scene and determine the cause of the accident, but it can be difficult to find physical evidence of a driver falling asleep. If the driver refuses to admit his mistake, here are a few quick tips to help you gather evidence for your claim:
File a police report: Even if the driver does not admit he was asleep, you can mention your suspicions to the police officer and he should document them in the report.
Take pictures and videos: If the driver seems dazed or disoriented, it may be evidence that he was not completely alert during the crash. You can also check the inside of the car for coffee cups, No-Doz and other stimulants that may indicate if the driver was experiencing symptoms of sleep deprivation before the crash.
Talk to witnesses: If an independent witness saw the driver nodding off or drifting between lanes before a collision, it can be powerful evidence to back up your personal injury claim. Ask witnesses to write down what they saw, even if it is on the back of an envelope or receipt. Their observation could make an important difference later.
Even if a driver falls asleep due to ordinary fatigue, their decision to drive impaired still makes them negligent. A 25-year-old bicyclist from Princeton lost his life because someone chose to drive on too little sleep.
Toni Rosales of Palisade, Colorado was running late for a court date on DUI charges when she struck and killed Eunjey Cho, a volunteer with the Jesuit Volunteer Corp who was biking cross-country. Her lawyer said she fell asleep at the wheel because she was struggling with issues stemming from childhood abuse, and often went a week without sleeping.
Even with mitigating circumstances, Rosales still pled guilty to charges of vehicular homicide. She is scheduled to be sentenced on July 25; she could face 2-24 years behind bars.
If a driver’s fatigue causes an accident, he can still be found negligent and eligible for a personal injury claim. If the crash turns fatal, as it did for the bicyclist, the driver can even be charged with wrongful death. To discuss the details of your auto accident, call Metier Law Firm to schedule a free consultation.
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