Court backs Schneider on driver disqualification

Schneider National could legally disqualify a driver who was diagnosed with a disorder that can lead to fainting even though the condition is treatable and is not a disqualifying illness under federal motor carrier safety regulations, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled last month.

Jerome Hoefner had driven a million miles for Schneider without an avoidable accident, but in 2002 he had a fainting spell and was diagnosed with neurocardiogenic syncope, a disorder of the nervous system that can produce a sudden drop in blood pressure, causing the person to faint. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued Schneider on Americans with Disability Act grounds, although the driver had since gotten a job at another trucking company.

Schneider had adopted a zero tolerance policy on neurocardiogenic syncope because two years earlier a driver the company had hired with the condition had driven his truck off a bridge and been killed. Although the autopsy could not determine whether that driver had fainted, Schneider decided that it could not accept the risk.

The court concluded that the risk of fainting while driving with the disorder was small. “But Schneider is entitled to determine how much risk is too great for it to be willing to take,” it said. Given the carrier’s size and the fact that neurocardiogenic syncope is a common disorder, the risk that at least one driver would have an accident due to the disorder “could not be thought wholly negligible.” (Case No. 06-3108)