Court Ruling: Sleep Apnea Testing Doesn’t Violate ADA
In October of 2016, a federal court determined that mandatory sleep apnea testing for truck drivers doesn’t violate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in a ruling that has profound implications for highway safety.
In the case of Parker v. Crete Carrier Corporation, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that determined a trucking company’s policy of requiring mandatory sleep apnea testing for drivers with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher conformed to the ADA. The plaintiff in this case originally refused the mandatory testing on the grounds that he had no medical record of sleep apnea and no negative driving history.
In response, the company took him out of service for refusing to comply with testing, and he filed suit under the ADA in turn. He and his attorneys argued that the requirement discriminated against him because it regarded him as having a disability.
In its ruling, the Eighth Circuit Court affirmed the dismissal of this claim by a district court, pointing in particular to the job-related nature of the testing, the well-established connection between obesity and sleep apnea, and the risks that truck drivers pose to motorists when they operate large commercial vehicles in a fatigued state.
The court also noted that the plaintiff was bound by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations that require truck drivers to receive medical examinations every two years in order to certify them as physically qualified to work. Two major FMCSA advisory committees have also recommended that the FMCSA change its certification standards to reduce the risks posed by drivers who have obstructive sleep apnea.
The court’s decision creates an opportunity for more trucking companies to begin instituting mandatory sleep apnea testing requirements for drivers, and it also establishes a precedent that may affect other industries. Based on the court’s ruling, employers can potentially be more proactive when it comes to testing for conditions that create a clear job-related safety concern, rather than reacting after an employee has shown evidence that they pose a safety risk.
Why Sleep Apnea Is a Threat to Both Motorists and Truck Drivers
As we’ve discussed on this blog in the past, sleep apnea is one of the leading causes of fatigue among truckers, which is itself a factor in many deadly trucking accidents. Because sleep apnea obstructs breathing during sleep and prevents people from getting an adequate night’s rest, many of the thousands of truckers who suffer from this condition experience constant fatigue behind the wheel, impairing their ability to drive safely.
Since sleep apnea testing isn’t currently mandatory for truck drivers, it’s unclear exactly how many truckers suffer from the condition. Still, there’s no question that the problem is serious: Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), one of the two main types of sleep apnea, is strongly associated with obesity, and a 2014 study from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that long-haul truck drivers in the U.S. had a 69 percent rate of obesity.
Meanwhile, another study in November 2015, reported in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention, demonstrated that this high rate of obesity among truckers isn’t just a theoretical problem. Researchers from the University of Minnesota Morris found that truck drivers with a BMI higher than 35 (“severely obese”) were 43 to 55 percent more likely to crash during their first two years on the road compared to drivers with a normal BMI. Although the published study didn’t determine the reasons behind the correlation, the professor who led the study suggested that sleep apnea was a probable cause.
These alarming statistics aren’t really surprising when you consider the extremely high risks associated with fatigued driving: a 1999 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that drowsy driving was just as likely to cause a crash as driving drunk. (The popular TV show MythBusters even devoted an episode to the results of this study in 2010, and they confirmed AAA’s findings.)
Truckers Benefit from Apnea Testing, Too
Commuters and recreational drivers aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from sleep apnea testing for truckers, though. Untreated sleep apnea can result in a number of health problems, including high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, diabetes, and depression. In fact, studies show that people who suffer from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and fail to receive treatment experience a 20 percent reduction in life expectancy, on average. Unfortunately, many truckers don’t even realize they have sleep apnea, which is why testing is the first important step to helping them receive treatment.
These facts make clear what trucking safety advocates already know: testing for sleep apnea has nothing to do with discriminating against people with obesity or marginalizing sleep apnea sufferers. Rather, it’s a necessary step toward ensuring the safety of our highways as well as the long-term health and well-being of the dedicated truckers who keep our shipping infrastructure moving.
Contact the Truck Wreck Justice Team If You’ve Been Injured
If you or a loved one has been injured in a crash involving a large truck or bus, trucking attorney Morgan Adams and the Truck Wreck Justice team are here to advocate for you and help you pursue justice. To get in touch with us, either complete our quick and easy online contact form or give us a call at (866) 580-HURT.
During your consultation, we can discuss the circumstances of your injuries and inform you about your legal options. Statutes of limitations do apply to truck wreck cases, so please don’t wait — call our offices today.
Highly obese truck drivers have higher crash risk, according to new research. (2013, January). Catalyst. Retrieved from http://www.cts.umn.edu/Publications/catalyst/2013/january/obese
Parker v. Crete Carrier Corporation. 2016 WL 5929210. (8th Cir. 2016).
Sleep apnea. (2016, September 6). WebMD. Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/sleep-apnea/sleep-apnea
Stutts, C.J., Wilkings, J.W., & Vaughn, B.V. (1999, November). Why do people have drowsy driving crashes? Input from drivers who just did. Washington, D.C.: AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Retrieved from https://www.aaafoundation.org/sites/default/files/sleep.PDF