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Asleep at the Wheel Accidents

Drowsiness while driving may be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  1. Lack of sleep
  2. A medical condition
  3. Intoxication or drug use
  4. Prescription medication
  5. Lack of nearby rest stops
  6. Graveyard shifts or overwork
  7. Too many hours on the road
  8. Unexpected side effect of medication

New Hampshire law prohibits drivers who are drowsy from getting behind the wheel and requires tired drivers to get off the road as soon as they notice themselves becoming even slighly inattentive due to exhaustion, lack of sleep, etc. Despite these laws, many drivers ignore the warning signs that they are starting to fall asleep and, as a result, tens of thousands of accidents occur each year due to drivers falling asleep at the wheel. We have heard many excuses for this reckless behavior, the most popular being “I needed to get somewhere.” Tired drivers mistakenly believe they can ward off sleep by turning up their radio, opening a window, or chewing gum. While these measures may have a temporary effect of making the driver more alert, the body’s need for sleep almost always wins out with disastrous results.

Although one would expect that people who fall asleep at the wheel would automatically be at fault for getting into an accident, their insurance companies often deny claims for various reasons including an unexpected side effect of medication. In one case we handled recently where this defense was raised, we hired an expert pharmacologist to provide an opinion about the particular side effect of the medication that the driver who hit our client was taking. The driver claimed that, prior to falling asleep, he did not recall being drowsy. Studies our expert found showed that, when that side effect of the medication occurred, the onset of drowsiness was gradual and noticeable, and anyone experiencing the side effect would have had ample opportunity to get off the road. When questioning the driver, we were also able to establish that he had had prior experiences with that medication causing drowsiness. Based on this evidence, the driver’s insurance company reversed its denial of the claim and we were able to obtain a substantial settlement for our client. It should also be pointed out that, in that case, the insurance company initially told our client that their insured (the other driver) was at fault. It was only when she rejected their low-ball settlement offer that the insurance adjuster brought up the medication side effect argument and denied her claim. When the client first met with us about handling her case, she expressed surprise that the insurance adjuster could flip-flop like that. We informed her—as we have informed many clients—that unless an insurance adjuster puts it in writing that their insured was at fault for causing an accident, what they say in an effort to get you to settle your case (for a low amount) is useless in court.

Tired Truckers

Drivers of large commercial motor vehicles are required to keep track of all driving hours to ensure that they are resting for a certain amount of time during their day. These rules are designed to prevent tired truckers from being on the road. If a truck driver does not accurately and consistently track these hours or works over the permitted amount of hours, he or she may lose her license and/or be fined or even incarcerated.

If you or a loved one has been in an accident caused by a driver who fell asleep at the wheel, contact Peter Thompson & Associates. Our award-winning and highly experienced attorneys will fight for your rights and get you the compensation you need and deserve. To talk to one of our attorneys, call 800.804.2004 or contact us online.