An Austin lawyer filed a lawsuit this week against a Dallas trucking company, alleging the company and the driver were negligent after a young girl was badly injured in an accident in Round Rock.
In May, 19-year-old Lindsey Plummer was driving home from spending the day with her mom when she was stopped by traffic on IH-35.
All of a sudden she was hit from behind by an 18-wheeler.
"I just felt…everything went black and I could hear the glass breaking and air getting sucked inside the vehicle,” Plummer described.
She called police, and on the scene the driver told Round Rock officers that he had fallen asleep at the wheel.
The officers discuss his confession on body camera footage obtained from the Round Rock Police Department.
Black box records from the truck record the driver’s speed at more than 50 miles per hour at the moment of impact.
"He crumbled the car and he's actually the one that pushed me over to the side of the road,” said Plummer.
"She was the brake,” said Plummer’s lawyer, Brad Bonilla. “The truck driver didn't start braking until the impact happened."
Bonilla believes this accident could have been prevented if the driver had been tested for sleep apnea. That’s what he’s alleging in the lawsuit filed Thursday.
"Our client is likely going to experience lifelong and permanent complications because of a bad decision on behalf of the trucking company,” Bonilla told KVUE.
"28 percent of all truck drivers, according to an FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) study, are vulnerable for sleep apnea. That means a little bit more than one in four drivers out there have problems getting a good night's rest and that affects their ability to operate a motor vehicle,” Bonilla explained.
It's a national debate in the trucking industry right now. Some companies already require testing for sleep apnea but it's not federally mandated yet.
According to a study by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, truck drivers with obstructive sleep apnea who don't get treatment have a rate of preventable crashes five times higher than truckers without the ailment.
Those same researchers also estimate that up to 20 percent of all 18-wheeler crashes result from drowsy or fatigued driving.
“It's the worst thing I've ever had to go through,” Plummer said of her accident. She has been in a wheelchair for over a month with back and neck pain. "From one minute being fine and shopping to…I can't walk.”
KVUE spoke to the president of the Texas Trucking Association, John Esparza.
Esparza says they’re not against regulations that make driving safer for everyone on the roads, but they do feel that testing requirements need to be further developed before they’re mandatory.
“It’s difficult to find drivers. It’s hard to qualify them,” said Esparza. There is currently a truck driver shortage across the country.
The sleep apnea tests are also expensive and treatment is not guaranteed to work.
“You’re going to be taking good drivers off the road who would otherwise be out there earning money but there’s not an issue for them because they meet an ‘index.’ There needs to be more work there,” he said.
That index includes a BMI, or body mass index, over 35. A higher BMI increases the likelihood of sleep apnea.
Bonilla believes the driver in his client’s case meets that criteria.
So far, the trucking company has not responded to the lawsuit.
As for Plummer, she just wants to make sure her story is heard. "Even if he would have stopped just to take a little nap, it wouldn't have cost the company much money."
The driver that caused her accident was not ticketed or charged by Round Rock police.
For more information on sleep apnea requirements for truck drivers, click here.
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