You may be one of many people here in New York who don’t sleep enough. You may joke that you feel like a narcoleptic because you could pretty much snooze anywhere due to constantly feeling tired. However, this sleep disorder can be incredibly dangerous for those who have it, and for anyone else who happens to be on the road with someone suffering from this condition unchecked.
Approximately 250,000 people here in the United States suffer from a sleep disorder called narcolepsy. Not all people who suffer from this disorder fall asleep without realizing it. Many have their symptoms under control, but when one doesn’t take certain precautions, a narcoleptic driver could cause an accident.
The primary issue with narcolepsy is the cataplectic attack. When this happens, an individual will go from awake into REM sleep in seconds. During REM sleep, you are unable to move. Your brain essentially paralyzes your body to keep you from acting out your dreams. While this may keep you safe as you sleep in your bed or in some other safe place, behind the wheel of a car, it could be catastrophic.
These attacks could range between mild and severe. In any case, you would not be able to function properly or focus while driving.
The role of drowsiness
Even if you don’t always get enough sleep, more often than not, you are awake and able to function. You probably know when you get drowsy enough to fall asleep. Under these circumstances, you may delay driving until you are more awake and able to pay attention.
Unfortunately, people who suffer from narcolepsy experience extreme sleepiness throughout the day. Since this is often their normal state, they cannot use it as an indicator that they may fall asleep suddenly. For this reason, many people with narcolepsy choose not to drive either when they know they could have a cataplectic attack or not at all.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that sleepiness contributes to around 100,000 vehicle accidents each year. Serious injuries occurred in approximately 71,000 of those crashes, and approximately 1,500 resulted in at least one death. These statistics do not indicate whether someone with narcolepsy caused any of these accidents.
Accidents involving someone with narcolepsy
If you suffered serious injuries in an accident involving someone who fell asleep at the wheel, you may want to inquire as to whether the other driver suffers from narcolepsy. If so, and his or her symptoms were not under total control at the time, the decision to drive could have created an unreasonable risk.
You may pursue compensation through a personal injury claim and use this person’s medical condition to establish negligence. Before doing so, however, it may help to understand your rights and legal options.