If I was forced to work on average 12 hours a day for 10 days straight, do I have any recourse against my employer since I fell asleep behind the wheel and had an accident?

I was forced to work from 4 am which required me to wake up at 3 am everyday. My employer knew I was severely undermanned based on the amount of work required but would not give me help. I became physically and mentally exhausted which is why on day 10 I fell asleep at the wheel and totaled my vehicle.

Asked on July 15, 2015 under Accident Law, Texas


B.H.F., Member, Texas State Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

The answer is actually, maybe.  This was very big issue a few years ago when truck drivers where being "forced" to drive extended shifts... which resulted in fatigue and then wrecks.  Because of lawsuits associated with these fatigue related injuries, the law eventually changed requiring more monitoring of the trucking industry.  OSHA doesn't specifically limit hours worked, but OSHA does impose a duty to provide a safe working environment.  Multiple shifts with minimal breaks in between can deter the ability to work safely.  The Department of Labor actually has publications which discourage employers from using extended shifts for this reason.  So... there is not a absolute right for you to sue your employer for unsafe work conditions... but there is a chance you could be successful if you leverage the history of the trucking industry.  Just understand it's not a slam dunk case. 

If a lawsuit is not something that you are interested in, you may want to consider consulting with a union.  Many employers have started reverting to semi-sweatshop days... which was one of the strong motivators for the labor movement.  Because of this, unions are starting to pop back up.  You do have the right to collectively bargain... it's not necessarily the only option, but it's certainly a cheaper option for effectuating change.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

No, your employer is not liable, because in the eyes of the law, you were not "forced" to work those hours: you could have chosen to not work them. Certainly, you could have lost your job for refusing, but that was your choice: you chose to accept working extreme hours rather than risk losing your job. As an adult, that was your choice to make; but having made the choice, you have to accept the consequences. Since an employer has the right to set *any* working conditions or hours it wishes, it did legally nothing wrong or improper in requirng this much work or that many hours; since it did not do anything illegal, again, your choice to work those hours makes the consequences your responsibility. (It is only duress--illegally being forced--to do something if the other party uses illegal means to make you do that thing, like violence or the threat of violence.)

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