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Personal Injury & Medical Malpractice Blog

Monday, November 28, 2016

Engineer Involved in Fatal NJ Train Crash Had Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea

How can sleep apnea affect a person’s ability to drive or operate machinery?

In September, the nation was shocked by a train crash in New Jersey that killed one and injured more than 100 passengers.  The accident involved a New Jersey Transit train headed to the Hoboken station.  According to witness accounts, the train barreled into the station without attempting to stop, killing a passenger standing on the platform.  Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Review Board have been working to uncover the cause of the accident and the reason for the engineer’s apparent failure to stop.  

Now, the NTSB has new information that could shed some light on what caused the crash—the train engineer has been diagnosed with sleep apnea since the accident.  The NTSB cautions that this diagnosis does not mean the engineer fell asleep behind the wheel; rather, it will be considered along with all other evidence in reaching conclusions as to the cause of the accident.  

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a fairly common chronic condition in which sufferers experience pauses in their breathing while sleeping.  Pauses may last just a few seconds to several minutes.  They will often happen 30 or more times in an hour.  These breathing pauses often occur while the sleeper is completely unaware.  Sleep apnea leads to fatigue during the day due to the body’s inability to get a full night rest and continuous deprivation of oxygen.

How Does Sleep Apnea Potentially Impact Driving?

Sleep apnea can create serious hazards for those in the transportation industry.   Engineers are tasked with the critical job of operating massive trains.  If engineers with undiagnosed sleep apnea are so tired that they doze off while on the jobs, the lives of passengers and pedestrians in the area are at risk.  These same risks exist for truck drivers, bus drivers, and other commercial vehicle operators.  Many industries conduct screening for sleep apnea, but regulations vary as to who must comply with screenings and what actions should be taken if sleep apnea is suspected.  In the event of a city bus, train, or other motor vehicle accident, sleep apnea should be sconsidered by your New York municipal liability attorney.


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