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How Can Prescription and Over-the-Counter Drugs Cause Truck Accidents?

January 29, 2024

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In Ohio, semi-trucks can be up to 53’ long with their trailers attached, and they can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. Because of their massive size and the damage they can cause in collisions, it’s extremely important for the people who drive them to be fully awake, alert, and focused on the road.

Unfortunately, it’s common for truck drivers to be drowsy, distracted, and even in a state of “highway hypnosis.” Falling into this state can be caused by many things, including sleep deprivation, long shifts behind the wheel, and taking certain medications.

In this blog, we’ll discuss how both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can contribute to or cause truck accidents.

How Do OTC and Prescription Medications Affect Truck Drivers?

Truck drivers experience the same health problems as people in other occupations, and because they can spend up to 11 hours driving in one stretch, they may also experience health problems unique to their occupation.

Because of those health problems, truck drivers often rely on both OTC and prescription medications. However, certain medications come with side effects that can make the risk of crashing more likely, including:

  • Reduced alertness
  • Difficulty concentrating or focusing
  • Drowsiness
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability

According to studies, impairment caused by prescription and OTC drugs can be just as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol. Additional common side effects like dizziness, blurred vision, and delayed reflexes significantly elevate the risk of accidents, especially when operating heavy commercial vehicles.

What Happens When a Truck Driver on a Medication Causes a Crash?

When a truck driver involved in a crash is found to be under the influence of medication, the situation becomes legally complex and often requires a detailed investigation to determine liability and consequences.

  • Potential Criminal Charges: If the driver is found to be under the influence of prescription or OTC medication that impairs their ability to drive safely, they might face criminal charges similar to driving under the influence (DUI) charges for alcohol.
  • Civil Liability: Victims of the crash have the right to pursue compensation for their injuries, damages, and losses. Proving the liability of the truck driver and potentially the trucking company or other involved parties becomes crucial in seeking compensation through a civil lawsuit.
  • Trucking Company Responsibility: If the truck driver was on duty and working for a company at the time of the accident, the trucking company might also be held responsible. If the company neglected to screen or monitor their drivers for medication use that could impair driving abilities, they might share liability for the crash.

Other Drivers Impaired by Medications Can Cause Crashes, Too

Although truck drivers are often at fault in crashes involving semi-trucks, they aren’t always the drivers who cause them. In some cases, semi-trucks are involved in crashes because their drivers are forced to swerve or perform dangerous maneuvers while attempting to avoid colliding with other vehicles driven by negligent drivers.

For example, a truck driver in the middle lane may crash into the vehicle in the left lane because he moved over to avoid a vehicle in the right lane that was drifting towards him due to its driver feeling drowsy from a medication.

How Can You Prove a Driver Was Impaired by a Medication After a Crash?

To establish that a driver was impaired by medication following a crash, police officers, insurance companies, and attorneys often must review several different pieces of evidence. Law enforcement officers conduct on-site assessments, including interviews with witnesses, evaluating the driver's behavior, and performing field sobriety tests designed to detect impairment.

Post-accident investigations dig deeper and involve obtaining the driver's medical records to identify prescribed medications and assess their potential side effects. Expert testimony from medical professionals familiar with the effects of specific medications is often pivotal in establishing the correlation between the medication and impairment.

Chemical tests, such as blood or urine analysis, may be conducted to detect the presence of drugs in the driver's system. However, interpreting these results requires expertise in correlating drug levels with impairment levels, which can be complex due to varying individual tolerances and effects.

Additionally, a comprehensive review of the driver's behavior, statements made after the crash, and any prior history of medication-related issues can contribute to determining if they were under the influence of a medication when they caused the accident.

What Options Are Available for People Injured in Crashes Caused by Medicated Drivers?

People who are injured in truck accidents that were caused by others’ negligence have a few options for getting compensation:

  • Filing a claim against the truck driver’s insurance: If the truck driver was off-duty or is an owner-operator and not employed by a trucking company, he can be held personally liable for any damages he causes in a crash caused by medication side effects. In most cases, any compensation he owes the victim will be paid through his personal truck insurance policy.
  • Filing a claim against the driver’s employer: If the truck driver was on duty and works for a trucking company, his employer may be held liable for any damages incurred in a crash. That’s because the crash victim may be able to argue that the employer should have known about their driver’s medication usage and taken steps to prevent it from causing a crash.
  • Filing a claim against another driver: As mentioned earlier, sometimes other drivers impaired by medications can cause truck accidents. If it can be proven that another driver is responsible for the crash, they can be held liable for damages instead of or alongside the truck driver or trucking company.

Our Ohio Truck Accident Lawyers Want to Help You Get Compensation

Both OTC and prescription medications can dramatically improve quality of life for people suffering from health problems—and those people often include truck drivers. However, because they spend so much time behind the wheel, truck drivers must be extremely cautious about taking certain medications to ensure they don’t put themselves and others at risk when they’re on the road.

If you or someone you love was injured in a truck crash, the Cleveland truck accident attorneys at Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy are here to help. We’ll investigate the crash and determine if and how the truck driver was negligent, whether they were taking medications known to affect driving, violating hours of service requirements, driving drunk, and more. Contact us today for a free consultation.

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