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Trucking safety impaired by inadequate control of medical certification process

As a trucking accident injury trial attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, I sometimes run across truck drivers about whom I wonder how they ever passed a medical exam. In a case last year, when I dug into records and took depositions, I found that a truck driver with extensive heart disease had open heart surgery. Soon thereafter he returned to work driving an 18 wheeler over the road.

How did he pass his Commercial Drivers License (CDL) medical exam to return to work so soon after open heart surgery? He went to a chiropractor for a CDL medical certificate at 8 AM before reporting for work at 8:30 AM.

In another case, I found that a truck driver’s own physician said he should not have left home without an oxygen tank due to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disesase), and lack of oxygen to the brain made him unfit to drive.

In both cases, the truck drivers’ medical conditions were contributing factors in their poor judgments in operating 80,000 pound big rig vehicles.

Now, a news story on MS-NBC has revealed just how easy it is for a long-haul trucker to renew medical certification. A chiropractor or advance practice nurse at a truck stop medical clinic can renew a trucker’s medical certificate in 20 minutes — even after open heart surgery.

And truck drivers who are denied certification for any reason can simply head down the road and try another “med stop” because data tracking of this issue is nonexistent. Moreover, even when a trucker is caught without proper medical certification, immediate license revocation may not result
While the National Transportation Safety Board in 2002 proposed enhanced medical standards for truckers, the response has been minimal. Over the ensuing six years, over 800 fatal crashes were blamed, at least in part, on medically unqualified drivers.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has begun tightening supervision of medical certification, but for those killed or maimed by unfit truck drivers in the meantime, it’s too little and too late.

Ken Shigley, author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice, is a board member of the Interstate Trucking Litigation Group, a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, he has been listed as a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), among the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend Magazine), and in the Bar Register of Preeminent Lawyers . He practices law at the Atlanta law firm of Chambers, Aholt & Rickard, and has broad experience in catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, products liability, spinal cord injury, brain injury and burn injury cases. He is also president-elect of the State Bar of Georgia. This post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.

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One response to “Trucking safety impaired by inadequate control of medical certification process”

  1. Jonelle Vold says:

    This is extremely alarming. Why aren’t the insurance carriers, who are not bound by all of the employment regulations that they employers are, stepping in with a heavy fist to require better documentation?