CMV Litigation: The Driver’s Medical Examination

The Driver’s Medical Examination

After specifying the criteria a driver must satisfy to physically operate a CMV, the regulations set forth the requirements applicable to medical examiners and the examinations themselves. Medical examinations must be conducted by a certified medical examiner who possesses knowledge of the “specific physical and mental demands” of operating a commercial motor vehicle. This includes knowledge of the aforementioned physical qualification requirements.

The regulations further provide a very specific set of instructions and criteria for administering the exam, along with a detailed form that is to be completed. These are some of the important details of each component of the examination:

  1. Monocular drivers are not qualified
  2. An individual with hypertension or who is being treated for hypertension should be recertified more frequently. If a driver’s blood pressure is 140/90–159/99 (i.e, stage 1 2. hypertension) he may be certified for one year. A higher blood pressure may result in a one-time three-month certification. A driver with a blood pressure greater than 180/110 cannot be certified until his blood pressure is reduced to lower than 140/90, and must be recertified every six months thereafter.
  3. The medical exam report and, if issued, the medical certificate are to be retained by the medical examiner for three years from the date of the exam certificate. The motor carrier is only required to keep copy of the medical certificate, not the entire report.
  4. Upon request, the medical examiner must make all records and information in his or her files available to the FMCSA or any authorized Federal, State, or local law enforcement agency within 48 hours.

Observations

A copy of the medical exam report may disclose physical problems that may progress after issuance of the Certificate to the point that the driver would become disqualified. While drivers are required to comply with the regulations, the USDOT interpretation specifically states that, “the motor carrier is also responsible for insuring that only medically qualified drivers are operating CMV in interstate commerce.” In any case involving a driver with a health problem, an interesting question for the safety director is what steps the motor carrier took to actively monitor its drivers. For example, does the motor carrier obtain a copy of the medical examiner’s report, note any potential problem areas, and flag the driver for follow up? This may sound extreme until one considers the potential for harm posed by someone driving an 80,000 pound vehicle loaded with gasoline with a medical history that reveals an obvious developing cardiac condition. This question may have breakthrough impact for a safety director who is deposed after the driver sitting next to him in the deposition room has testified in his own deposition that he started (intermittently) taking medication for uncontrolled high blood pressure after getting his Medical Examiner’s Certificate, but before the accident which he cannot recall because he “blacked out.”
Further guidance is provided by the USDOT interpretation of the regulations, which state that although the FMCSRs do not require an exam of a driver returning from illness or injury, “the motor carrier has an obligation to determine if an injury or illness renders the driver medically unqualified.”1 Note that many motor carriers will include a copy of the medical examiner’s report in the DQ file. In all but the most benign accidents, that record should be scrutinized. Motor carriers have a duty to monitor drivers after they are hired; the issuance of a current medical certificate is not an absolute safe harbor.

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