Is a Driver Who Falls Asleep While Driving Liable for Injuries to Others?

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Zach Galifianakis and Robert Downey Junior in Due Date (2010)


A driver who falls asleep at the wheel, in New York, will be held liable for any injuries he causes to others.

If you have ever decided to continue or commence operating a motor vehicle when you are on the verge of sleep, you might want to reconsider your choices. Although the risks might seem obvious, many people still choose to drive while tired, or on the verge of slumber. With that in mind, I thought it might be a good idea to remind drivers of the legal ramifications, both civil and criminal, that come with falling asleep at the wheel.

First off, all drivers should be aware that the presumption of negligence falls on them if they are to fall asleep at the wheel and cause an accident. The exact legal wording in regards to civil law is that upon showing a driver has fallen asleep “at the wheel of a motor vehicle, a presumption of negligence arises”. Spiviak v. Heyward, 248 A.D.2d 58 (2d Dept. 1998).

While a driver may overcome the presumption of negligence upon the introduction of competent evidence, The burden is on the responsible driver to prove that he was not negligent. Spiviak v. Heyward, 248 A.D.2d 58 (2d Dept. 1998). This is quite difficult to prove. In fact, at the present time, we are unaware of even a single case where a driver that fell asleep at the wheel able to overcome the presumption of negligence.


See also e.g. Chan v. Choi, 165 A.D.3d 498 (1st Dept. 2018)(Driver who get behind the wheel despite knowing he was too tired to drive was held negligent, in spite of argument that passenger was at fault for the accident);Chiaia v. Bostic, 279 A.D.2d 495 (2d Dept. 2001) (Conclusory claim that defendant had a seizure and blacked out just before the accident was unsubstantiated); DeTellis v. Avis Rent a Car Sys., 273 A.D.2d 268 (2d Dept. 2000) (Defendant continued to drive in spite of feeling drowsy); Kilburn v. Bush, 223 A.D.2d 110 (4th Dept. 1996) (Defendant did not attempt to excuse or explain his conduct, but simply stated he had fallen asleep without warning).


Persons in New York who are injured due to a driver falling asleep are entitled to compensation for their serious injuries. If you have been injured due to a driver falling asleep you should contact a personal injury law firm experienced in handling such cases. The New York Personal Injury Law Firm of Zalman Schnurman & Miner P.C. is experienced in representing persons injured due to drivers’ falling asleep. For a free consultation call 1-800-LAWLINE or 1800-529-5463.

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