The Metro-North engineer who derailed his train last year, killing four passengers and injuring dozens more, was suffering from a sleep disorder. He slept through the accident.
The driver of the Chicago subway train that recently crashed at O’Hare International Airport told authorities she fell asleep before the train entered the station. Her train derailed and raced up an escalator, causing injury and death.
In the 2003 Staten Island Ferry crash, it was determined that the pilot lost consciousness while at the ship’s controls. He had taken the painkillers tramadol and Tylenol PM, both of which can cause drowsiness as a side effect.
The captain of the 2009 Air France plane that crashed into the sea killing 228 people on board had just one hour’s sleep before setting off.
The driver of a tractor trailer that crashed into a Kansas Turnpike toll plaza on March 29 of this year appeared to be asleep in photos taken just before the crash.
Yes, sleep can be deadly, on the road, in the air, on the sea — and in court, too. In New York, evidence that the driver fell asleep at the wheel creates what we lawyers call a “rebuttable presumption” of negligence. That means that once you show in court that the driver fell asleep, you have made out a “prima facie” case, which means you have proved your case subject to the driver getting a chance to explain why it wasn’t his fault he fell asleep. (As the old Saturday Night Live skit put it, the driver has “got some splaining to do”).
How does the asleep-at-the-wheel driver show that it was “not his fault” that he fell asleep? Assuming he or she can stay awake long enough to explain, his or her testimony will be subject to brutal cross-examination. People just don’t suddenly fall asleep. Before sleep sets in, there’s a warning sign — called “sleepiness” or “drowsiness” — which almost always comes on before actual sleep. Anyone who testifies that he just “suddenly” fell asleep, without warning, is likely lying, and a jury is likely to disbelieve that testimony. The negligence of the asleep-at-the-wheel driver or pilot or captain resides in his decision to keep driving after his body warned him it wanted to sleep. He should have pulled over and rested, or had his co-pilot take over, or called his boss to tell him he was in trouble.
Now the jury will have to tell him he’s in trouble.
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Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com Central NY Personal Injury Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.