In recent months, opioids have made headline after headline as law enforcement and medical personnel struggle to deal with the epidemic. But while most coverage of opioids has focused on the health risks the drugs pose to users, another potential risk also merits attention: opioid use among truck drivers.
Truck drivers frequently use drugs to get through their shifts, according to a Reuters article published in 2013. To a certain extent, this may seem understandable, as truck drivers work long shifts and are often under pressure from trucking companies to make unrealistic deadlines. But the fact remains that truckers who drive while under the influence of drugs are putting themselves and others at extreme risk.
Opioids can be especially dangerous because they have a strong sedative effect, which can cause truckers to "nod off" or fall asleep at the wheel. This is a level of impairment comparable to driving drunk, and the injuries caused can be even more serious because fatigued drivers may not even hit the brakes before impact due to a delay or lack of motor reflexes.
Legal implications of drugged driving truck accidents
After an accident caused by a truck driver under the influence of opioids, victims can likely pursue a personal injury claim not only against the truck driver, but also against the trucking company. However, claiming damages (financial compensation) from a trucking company is not always easy. Some of the legal issues that could emerge in a drugged driving case include:
- Respondeat superior: Latin for "let the master answer," this is a legal principle that says an employer is legally responsible for an employee's actions while on the job. However, many truck drivers are independent contractors, which can make it difficult to invoke this doctrine.
- Negligent hiring: Trucking companies are expected to conduct background checks to ensure that their drivers are safe, responsible operators. If a driver with a history of drug use makes it through the hiring process due to negligence, we may be able to hold the trucking company responsible.
- Negligent retention: Similar to negligent hiring, this is a claim against a trucking company that chooses to keep a driver employed after learning of a history of drug use or impaired driving.
- Direct negligence: While it would be highly unusual for a trucking company to actually encourage a driver to use drugs, some trucking companies' practices can be held responsible for drugged driving accidents. For instance, the company may have pressured the driver to work through mandatory breaks or violate hours of service rules, leading to the driver to turn to drugs to cope.
Many other issues can also come into play in a personal injury case arising from a truck accident involving opioids. That's why it's so important to consult an experienced attorney right away if you have been involved in such an accident.