Train Crash Caused by Sleep Apnea

The National Institutes of Health defines sleep apnea as a common disorder where you pause more than once in your breathing, or take shallow breaths, while you sleep. Typically, normal breathing then starts again, sometimes with a loud snort or choking sound. The most common type of the disorder is obstructive sleep apnea, where your airway collapses or becomes blocked during sleep. A leading cause of excessive daytime sleepiness, sleep apnea disrupts and lowers the quality of your sleep, and makes you tired during the day.

A New Jersey Transit engineer’s undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea was found to be the cause of a deadly commuter train crash in September, according to attorneys and the National Transportation Safety Review Board. The crash, at a busy Hoboken terminal during the morning rush, killed one woman on the platform and injured more than 100 others, reported The NTSB had earlier recommended that the Metropolitan Transit Authority, a separate, popular tri-state rail line, institute sleep apnea testing after one of its engineers fell asleep while controlling a train in 2013, killing four. That engineer also had an undiagnosed case of sleep apnea.
Sufferers from sleep apnea, repeatedly awakened and deprived of rest, are a problem for the transportation industry due to the dangers of daytime sleepiness. “You end up with an engineer who is so fatigued they’re dosing off, they’re falling asleep in these micro bursts and they often have no memory of it, and they’re operating a locomotive at the time, so they’re putting hundreds of people in danger,” said Sarah Feinberg, an administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration.
In November, the Railroad Administration announced a safety advisory stressing the importance of sleep apnea screening and treatment. The advisory is a stopgap measure, a strong recommendation while regulators draft rules that would require railroads to screen engineers for sleep apnea. According to AP, One railroad that already tests its engineers, Metro-North in the New York City suburbs, found that one in nine suffers from sleep apnea.  According to Feinberg, the process of creating new rules could take years, and railroads should not wait to take action until forced to do so by the government. “At this point it’s unacceptable to wait any longer,” she said.
Craig Follis has extensive experience in litigation, negotiating and settling suits, and providing legal opinions on liability and insurance coverage. You can reach him at (888) 703-0109 or via email at

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