When it comes to drowsy driving lawsuits, are jurors asleep at the wheel? Some lawyers who've tried such cases say victims often face roadblocks when it comes to proof.
"If you are going to try and make fatigue -- sleepiness -- a criminal legal issue in a motor vehicle accident, you have a lot, lot more to prove," attorney Patrick Bruno told the Associated Press. Bruno successfully defended an alleged drowsy bus driver in a manslaughter and negligent homicide case involving a crash that killed 15 people.
But why are drowsy driving cases so much more difficult to prove?
The Evidence Problem
Drowsy driving is a problem that can't easily be solved by new laws because proving sleepiness behind the wheel is difficult.
New Jersey is the only state that has successfully passed legislation addressing drowsy driving, reports the AP. Yet "Maggie's Law" doesn't fully solve the problem; to prove recklesness, for example, prosecutors have to show that a driver had been awake for 24 consecutive hours, which is often difficult to show through gathered evidence.
What kinds of evidence are commonly used in drowsy driving cases?
- Prosecutors can try to use an accident report that can show evidence of drowsy driving. For example, the report might show the car veered into a crowded intersection without skid marks, which suggests the driver didn't brake to avoid the crash.
- A driver's cell phone records can contain geographic data that show whether the alleged drowsy driver traveled a long distance over an extended period of time.
- Witness testimony can also be used to illustrate a driver's pattern of being awake and active for long hours. In addition, a driver's prescription for a medication that causes drowsiness can also be used as evidence of drowsy driving.
The High Standard
These types of evidence are useful for illustrating drowsy driving, but in most cases, they fall short of convicting a driver of negligent homicide.
To obtain a conviction in negligent homicide related to drowsy driving, prosecutors must generally prove "serious blameworthiness," "moral blameworthiness" or "dangerous speeding," a New York prosecutor told the AP. These are all very high standards to meet.
In fact, determining how much alcohol is in a driver's blood, or whether someone has used illegal drugs is generally -- though not always -- easier than quantifying drowsy driving.
That's why if you're thinking about filing a drowsy driving lawsuit yourself, it may be best to consult an experienced car accident attorney. An attorney can help uncover the facts needed to prove drowsy driving in your particular case, and can figure out the best way to receive compensation for your injuries.
- Push to Prosecute Drowsy Driving May Hinge on Its Definition (The New York Times)
- 1 in 24 Admit to Drowsy Driving: Study (FindLaw's Injured)
- Study: Driver Fatigue as Unsafe as Drunk Drivers (FindLaw's Injured)
- NTSB: Speed and Driver Fatigue Caused Utah Bus Crash (FindLaw's Injured)