Commercial bus carrier Greyhound has reached a settlement with five passengers, agreeing to pay $6 million to settle claims that the driver of a bus had an undiagnosed sleep condition that caused him to fall asleep at the wheel and crash the bus in an Ohio cornfield in September 2013, injuring at least 35.
The plaintiffs, ranging in age from 17 to 64, suffered from various injuries, including serious neck and back injuries.
The Greyhound bus was traveling from Cincinnati to Detroit when it veered off of Interstate 70 and rolled several times in a cornfield, tossing passengers around inside the vehicle.
Greyhound claimed that the bus driver, Dwayne Garrett, was drinking coffee when he had a sudden coughing fit that caused him to lose consciousness.
The plaintiffs, however, rejected that claim and argued that Mr. Garrett had fallen asleep behind the wheel because he suffered from obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a sleep disorder characterized by the reduction or cessation of breathing during sleep. If undiagnosed or untreated, OSA can cause a person to fall asleep unexpectedly.
Moderate to severe sleep apnea can also cause deficits in attention, concentration, situational awareness, memory, and the capacity to safely respond to hazards when driving or performing other safety-sensitive activities.
The complaint, filed in Dallas, Texas, county court, asserts that Greyhound could have avoided the crash had it followed the recommendations of a U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) medical examiner who suspected that Mr. Garrett suffered from sleep apnea and recommended that his driving certificate be restricted for three months. The doctor also recommended that Mr. Garrett participate in an overnight sleep study to determine if he had sleep apnea or other disorders affecting sleep.
The plaintiffs alleged that Greyhound failed to act upon the USDOT examiner’s recommendations, which were made one month before the crash.
Last April, lawyers for the plaintiffs obtained a court order that required Mr. Garrett to undergo an overnight sleep study. Greyhound appealed that order, maintaining that the driver passed out after choking on coffee, but the appellate court rejected the company’s appeal, allowing Mr. Garrett’s sleep study to proceed.
After the study, doctors confirmed that Mr. Garrett did indeed suffer moderate-to-severe sleep apnea.
Earlier this month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which regulates the commercial bus industry, announced it was in the earliest stages of proposing new rules addressing the threat of OSA in commercial drivers to traffic safety.
FMCSA regulators are following the recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which investigates major crashes and advises the federal government on safety improvements.