Falling Asleep While Driving...

A Personal Injury Case Study

This case example discusses some legal issues regarding falling asleep while driving accidents. We'll review the car accident, liability, injuries, settlement negotiations, and the final case resolution.

The Accident...

Jennifer had worked a 16-hour shift at the hospital, was coming down with a cold and was exhausted after several weeks of working over-time as a nurse's aid. As she pulled out of the parking lot of Sutter General, she debated on whether or not she could make the 45 minute drive home or if she should sleep in the employee's quarters.

Determined to sleep in her own bed, she got on the interstate and began the long drive home. At some point she started falling asleep while driving and side-swiped a car next to her, pushing it into the center median causing both cars to spin out of control until they came to a violent stop on the side of the road.


Jennifer is liable without question because she drove when she knew she might be too tired to do so and as a result negligently fell asleep while driving. Jennifer had an auto insurance policy in place at the time of the accident worth $100,000 per incident.


Jennifer was the only party in her vehicle and she experienced severe whiplash, lacerations to her face and a broken leg.

In the other car, three college students were traveling home after their last final examination. The driver experienced burns to her face from the airbag deployment, severe whiplash and a broken pelvis. She had to be removed from the vehicle with the jaws of life and was transported to the emergency room by ambulance.

Passenger 1 escaped with minor cuts and bruises, but otherwise unharmed.

Passenger 2 broke his left arm, left leg, had a concussion and an abrasion to his head.


The driver incurred medical bills totaling $4,600 to be transported and $29,000 for the surgery associated with her broken pelvis. In addition, her automobile was totaled. She demanded $200,000 for medical expenses, pain and suffering and property damage.

Passenger 1 was not injured and did not submit a personal injury claim.

Passenger 2 incurred medical bills totaling $15,600 and submitted a claim for $50,000.

Final Settlement...

Jennifer's insurance policy was $100,000 however the total demanded was $250,000. The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit to protect their interests and served both Jennifer and the insurance company.

Knowing that there was no chance of settling, the insurance adjuster referred the matter to the in-house attorney who represented Jennifer's interests on behalf of the insurance company. The matter was set for trial.

The defense counsel attempted to settle the matter for $60,000 and a counter-offer was made by the driver for $120,000 and by passenger 2 for $40,000. Just before trial was to begin, the case settled for $80,000 which was divided between the two parties: $50,000 to the driver and $30,000 to Passenger 2.

Important Points...

  • Your insurance company has in-house defense attorneys who will represent your policy interests if you get sued in a car accident.

  • You can still settle a case even once litigation has begun. In fact, many cases settle immediately after the defendant is served with notice that the plaintiff is going through with a lawsuit.

  • In most states, the statute of limitations says that you need to file a lawsuit within 2 years of the accident. Check your state's laws.

  • If the insurance policy is $100,000 and the damages exceed this amount, it is possible that you will be sued personally for the difference.

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