Zehl & Associates Depositions Appear in CBS Special on Medically Unfit Bus and Truck Drivers
The Houston Personal Injury Lawyers at Zehl & Associates recently appeared in a CBS special that focused on commercial truck and bus drivers with medical conditions that should prevent them from being on the road.
Charlie Rose: We have a disturbing look this morning at hidden dangers on highways across the country. A CBS News investigation reveals how bus and truck drivers can hide medical conditions that should keep them off the road.
Kris Van Cleave examined federal oversight of commercial drivers. He joins us from a rest stop in Savage, Maryland. Chris, good morning.
Kris Van Cleave: Good morning. Commercial drivers are required to get a medical screening before they can drive big rigs like these across state lines. In 2014 regulators overhauled the program. Since then, less than one percent of drivers have been medically disqualified. It’s a system even the government acknowledges hinges on drivers being honest about conditions that could cost them their jobs.
Ruthie Allen: I started yelling at the driver. But I didn’t get a response, and the bus started to tumble.
Kris: Ruthie Allen was one of 35 passengers injured when this Detroit-bound Greyhound bus drove off in Ohio interstate. The driver allegedly blacked out.
Ruthie: I looked down and I saw the bone in my thigh protruding through my clothing.
Woman: We’re upside-down. We just left the bus station in Cincinnati.
Kris: While the crash is still being investigated, the accident report says the driver, Dwayne Garrett, told police he was drinking coffee, started coughing, and lost consciousness. No coughing is heard on the dash camera video.
Kris: But just a few weeks before the crash, a department of transportation medical examiner suspected Garrett might have sleep apnea, a breathing condition that disrupts sleep and leads to fatigue.
If untreated, it disqualifies a driver from operating a commercial vehicle like a bus. Garrett got a 90-day waiver and was told to get tested.
Ryan Zehl: What did the DOT doctor say to you?
Dwayne Garrett: He claimed I had one of the markers for sleep apnea, which was, he claimed he could not see the back of my throat.
Kris: Instead, two days before the wreck, Garrett went to his personal physician, Dr. Robert Kunkel, also a DOT examiner. He acknowledged the DOT’s suspicion about sleep apnea, but Kunkel claims Garrett failed to disclose some key symptoms and this referral to get a sleep test.
Kevin Haynes: If Dwayne Garrett would have told you that he was referred to a sleep specialist, would that have changed your opinion about whether he needed further evaluation for obstructive sleep apnea?
Dr. Robert Kunkel: It would certainly have helped out.
Kris: A court-ordered sleep test ultimately diagnosed Garrett with sleep apnea. He’s now disqualified from driving commercially.
Our investigation found cases where drivers left off dangerous medical conditions from the DOT medical form, which the driver is expected to fill out truthfully.
Officer: Have you drunken alcohol today?
Driver: Not for a while.
Kris: After being involved in an accident, trucker Daniel Scott’s medical records show he failed to properly disclose to the DOT disqualifying conditions like alcoholic hepatitis and deteriorating vision.
Kris: This dashcam video shows Greyhound driver Curtis Woods slamming into a pickup, killing the driver. He later admitted he stopped using the machine to treat his sleep apnea, and even hid his condition.
Kevin: So you may have denied that you had sleep apnea after you had taken the sleep test and been using a CPAP?
Curtis Woods: For a while, yes.
Kris: CBS News reached out to 24 states, but only 4 had detailed medical information on commercial vehicle crash reports. A review of those reports found there were at least 398 commercial vehicle accidents involving medical conditions in 2013 and 2014 alone.
Rose McMurray: There’s a temptation to not fully disclose your ailments for fear that you might not pass the exam.
Kris: Rose McMurray is the former chief safety officer at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, the agency that regulates interstate commercial vehicles.
Rose: Clearly American people deserve to have a safe transportation system. They deserve to know that the drivers that are in an around them have been certified as being skilled enough to drive, that they’re safe to drive, and that they’re medically certified to drive.
Kris: Two years after the accident in that Ohio cornfield, Allen is still struggling with devastating injuries.
Ruthie: You’re allowing this person who could possibly kill people drive a weapon on the highway. It’s just not right.
Kris: The Department of Transportation says safety is its top priority and it is illegal to fraudulently obtain a medical certificate. Still, even the American trucking association has called parts of this program troubling and suggested it needs to be overhauled. Nora.
Nora: Well, your report will bring some needed attention. Kris, thank you so much.