The benefits of sleeping for at least eight hours each night are widely known and accepted by the general public. Proper rest is associated with increased productivity, improved concentration, and a boosted mood. However, as a tired driver, you are not just less friendly to your passengers onboard—you are also dangerous.
During the early hours of Friday, September 2nd, a Ford Econoline E350 van carrying twelve passengers was driving through Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Its driver fell asleep at the wheel, causing the van to swerve, roll over, and crash into the trees by Exit 2 of the Palisades Interstate Parkway. The Palisades Interstate Parkway (PIP) police as well as the Englewood Cliffs and Fort Lee Fire Departments retrieved and rescued the occupants of the van. Unfortunately, four of the twelve passengers died on impact, while the other eight were transported to nearby hospitals to receive treatment.
The injured and dead are reported to be Dominican immigrants who were hired by “On Target”, an employment agency in Inwood, and were required to ride a shuttle to the facility. According to reports there was a history of problems with the transportation service. Officials believe that the twelve victims worked at the Amscan in Chester, New York, and the driver was transporting them home when he may have fallen asleep. Amscan’s parent company is Party City Holdings. It is not uncommon for companies to hire staff through an employee leasing agency that will be responsible for HR decisions and matters, however, that may not necessarily relieve an agency client from responsibility and liability. From a legal point of view, they will be able to file Worker’s Compensation Claims and injury and wrongful death claims for their injuries and financial losses against several business entities, regardless of their immigration status.
Several major organizations have expressed concern or have conducted research studying the effect of “drowsy driving” in the United States. On its website, the Center of Disease Control (CDC) warns that “drowsy driving is a major problem in the United States”. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that in 2020, 633 deaths were caused by drowsy driving. In 2017, the NHTSA released an estimate that 91,000 police-reported crashes involved a drowsy driver. Those crashes caused over 50,000 injuries and almost 800 deaths.
In 2018, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety discovered that drowsy driving is a more prevalent issue than presented by federal estimates. This discrepancy is explained by how difficult it is to assess fatigue’s role in an accident. The Foundation examined “in-vehicle dashcam video from over 700 crashes” and found that “9.5 percent of all crashes and 10.8 percent of crashes resulting in significant property damage involved drowsiness”. Federal estimates only consider drowsiness to be a factor in 1-2% of crashes.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has established set guidelines limiting the number of hours that commercial truck drivers can work. Their goal is primarily to lessen the possibility of the carrier falling asleep at the wheel. The FMCSA established separate guidelines for property carriers, such as truck drivers. Truck drivers are also required to rest for a period of time between shifts, to not work several consecutive hours, and they must log their hours as evidence that they are adhering to these guidelines.
While it remains unclear if the driver in the September 2nd accident violated the FMCSA guidelines, as a common carrier, he did owe the highest standard of care to his passengers. The transportation company is also at fault for allowing their employee to drive in a state of fatigue, but if Amscan hired the company to drive its employees, Amscan will be at fault as well. For the dead and injured, this claim will likely be resolved as a consolidated Bergen County, New Jersey lawsuit among the injured and the family of the deceased.
The CDC suggests to adult and teenage drivers that they get at least seven to eight hours of sleep, respectively. The CDC moreover encourages drivers to establish set sleeping routines, seek treatment if they suffer from a sleeping disorder, and to avoid taking medication that makes them tired.
Reportedly, the driver of the van, George Massey, 54, may have suffered a medical emergency. Under the law, sudden medical emergencies are not considered acts of negligence, however, if the employer about a medical condition that could affect the fitness of a driver, then both the driver and employer may be held responsible for negligent hiring, and retention of an employee and negligent entrustment of a vehicle to such employee as a cause of injury or death. The facts and circumstances of this tragic fatal accident remain under the investigation of the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office.
The law firm of Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, PC extends its condolences to the families and survivors of this crash. The firm has a history of investigating and representing people injured in ride share accidents and in wrongful death lawsuits. The author of this article can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (201) 907-5000.
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