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By: Mandy Good

In August 2016, Dart Transit Company’s (“Dart”) driver, Richard Thompson, “had a medical issue that was reported to Dart as a heart attack.” Dart did not allow him to drive during his several week recovery. Dart required Mr. Thompson to undergo a new DOT physical with a nationally-registered medical examiner of Mr. Thompson’s choice before allowing him to drive again, and Dart ensured the prior heart attack was disclosed to the ME. The ME certified Mr. Thompson to drive CMVs for one year. In December 2016, Mr. Thompson suffered a heart attack while driving for Dart, which caused him to cross the median and strike Plaintiffs’ vehicle. Plaintiffs brought negligence claims against Dart and its driver’s estate.

In an opinion dated March 20, 2019, the Northern District of Ohio issued a decision holding that motor carriers are entitled to rely on medical determinations by medical professionals in deciding whether a driver is physically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle (“CMV”).  See Cline v. Dart Transit Co., 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46062; 2019 WL 1282109 (N.D. Ohio, March 20, 2019).  In light of that conclusion, the Court granted summary judgment to Dart and its driver’s estate on Plaintiffs’ negligence claims.

In Ohio, the “sudden medical emergency” doctrine is a complete bar to a negligence claim. However, the motion for summary judgment also focused on “whether the defendant driver should have been driving at all.” The Court stated, “The determination of whether a commercial truck driver should be driving at all ‘falls within the province of the DOT….” The DOT promulgated the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which state what a driver must do (or obtain) to be physically qualified to drive. Thus, “[w]hen motor carriers need to determine whether a driver is physically qualified to operate a commercial motor vehicle, they are ‘entitled to rely on medical determinations made by medical professionals.” “An employer’s determination that a person cannot safely perform his job functions is objectively reasonable when the employer relies upon a medical opinion that is itself objectively reasonable.”

The Court recognized potential Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) violations if motor carriers were required to “second guess the medical examiner’s certification,” and stated, “[t]he medical certification process established by the DOT allows motor carriers to simultaneously ensure that their drivers are physically qualified to drive and adhere to the requirements of the ADA.”