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Are crashes caused by medical “emergencies” truly unpreventable?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted March 7th, 2014

California truck accident caused by a medical emergency leaves one man dead, but are most of these  crashes truly emergencies?

medical emergency truck accidents

I recently came across this story out of Bakersfield, California about a tragic semi-truck accident. The accident only involved the semi-truck, and occurred after the trucker suffered a medical emergency.

Having two decades of experience, I’ve seen this defense before.  In fact, one of my cases is cited as the authority for sudden emergencies in the state of Michigan. In the case, a truck driver also claimed a sudden, medical emergency when he lost control and crashed into my client, seriously injuring her.

Sadly, crashes caused by medical emergencies do happen.

In this California single truck crash, the truck careened off of the highway and struck the perimeter fence several times. The truck the bounced off of the fence and across the southbound lanes onto the center divider, across the oncoming traffic lanes, and ultimately came to rest against the oncoming traffic guard fence. The driver died at the scene.

Usually serious truck accidents are caused by unsafe trucking companies or truck drivers who disregard the laws. The scary thing about truck accidents involving medical emergencies is that they can happen to anybody — even to the very best and safest truckers on the highway.

That being said, does this mean that all truck wrecks caused by medical emergencies are really honest-to-goodness, Act of God “accidents?”

Absolutely not.

Driving a semi-truck is extremely difficult. It is a rigorous – and regulated – profession. The cabs of modern semi-trucks look more like airplane cockpits. And as a truck accident lawyer, I’ve come to appreciate the great deal of skill that it takes to safely operate a fully-loaded, 80,000 pound semi-truck. It is critical to remain in control of the truck at all times and to remain alert.

The smallest mishap behind the wheel can literally cost innocent lives. So it is of the utmost importance that truckers who are behind the wheel of these heavy and potentially very dangerous  machines are fit and up to perform the task safely.

The FMCSA heavily regulates fitness of truckers. Truckers must be medically certified. In fact, the agency is becoming more and more serious about keeping potentially dangerous truckers off of the road that it recently revamped the medical clearing reporting requirements.

Truckers with serious and dangerous medical conditions getting behind the wheel

Still, many truck drivers with serious medical conditions get behind the wheel. Every single day.

This happens because certain truck drivers have learned to scam the system, and find the “go-to” doctors who will always  give them a clean bill of health so they’re cleared to drive.

Until the attorneys who litigate these cases start looking closer at who the doctors are that are clearing these people to drive, this will likely continue.

And when the system is broken, there are tragic consequences. There are far too many people being hurt and killed in truck wrecks caused by drivers who are medically unfit to drive. In fact, there are nearly 600,000 commercial truck drivers with dangerous medical conditions — so dangerous that they qualify for full federal disability payments — currently driving commercial trucks on the roads today, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study from 2010.

Some truckers who are unhealthy and more prone to medical emergencies have no business behind the wheel of a big rig truck, or any other commercial vehicle (including a motor coach). These people are susceptible to succumbing to medical conditions and causing serious truck accidents. This is why it is critically important for all trucking companies out there to follow the FMCSRs regarding truck driver fitness.
There are some truck accidents which truly are accidents.

But there are others — even medical emergency crashes — which are entirely preventable.

As an attorney litigating these cases, it is important for you to be able to distinguish between the two.

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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