Hitch Failure: How Defective Truck Hitches Cause Severe Accidents

Truck hitches are a common component of semi-trucks and an optional add-on for pick-up trucks to improve usability. With this, truck drivers can attach a trailer to transport large and heavy loads.

Unfortunately, truck hitches can be defective. If a driver experiences a hitch failure, it can cause a catastrophic and devastating accident. Without the trailer securely connected to the hitch, it can come loose and collide with oncoming traffic. As the average trailer is much larger than a standard passenger car — as long as 59 feet and often carrying around 20,000 pounds of cargo — the potential for a fatal accident is enormous.

So how exactly does a truck hitch work, how do hitch failures happen, and what can you do if you’re in an accident caused by a defective truck hitch?

How Does a Truck Hitch Work?

All truck hitches serve the same function: they’re mechanical devices fixed to the back of a truck, where drivers can attach a trailer. However, there are several types of hitch, each designed to accommodate different loads.

Smaller trucks — such as pick-up trucks and SUVs — have bumper hitches. These use a tow ball mount that attaches to the hitch on the trailer. Bumper hitches are suitable for towing small vehicles or light loads, but a stronger hitch is needed for heavy-duty towing.

Semi-trucks use a fifth-wheel hitch, which comes from its circular shape. These have a locking mechanism resembling a horseshoe, which holds the trailer in place while the truck is on the road.

Attaching a trailer to a fifth-wheel hitch is relatively straightforward: a truck driver only needs to back up until the trailer pin aligns. It’s simple yet highly secure, but a hitch failure can still occur.

How Do Hitch Failures Cause Accidents?

A hitch failure can happen for many reasons, whether a truck hitch is defective or breaks on the road because it’s made from substandard materials or wears away over time.

Other common causes of hitch failures include:

  • Poor hitch design
  • Weak support chains that cannot withstand everyday bumps and elevation changes on the road
  • A malfunctioning locking mechanism that prevents the trailer from properly attaching to the truck
  • Using the wrong size safety chains
  • Towing too much cargo.

Wear and tear is a common yet surprisingly overlooked cause of hitch failures. Semi-truck drivers work long shifts — often as long as 11 hours — during which they’ll clock around 600-650 miles. Add thousands of pounds of cargo on the back, and it undoubtedly puts strain on the vehicle, even though it’s been designed specifically to withstand heavy loads.

As a result, trucks require constant maintenance and repairs. The problem is that truck companies are under pressure to make multiple deliveries in a day, and if they miss one, they risk losing money. If just one truck out of a vast fleet can’t get out on the road because it needs costly maintenance, it puts a massive dent in a truck company’s revenue, so companies may be tempted to cut corners and push a truck to its limit.

Even when trucks are regularly maintained, the priority is usually the tires and brakes — not necessarily the hitch. If a defective truck hitch isn’t spotted, it could cost lives.

A typical result of wear and tear is the trailer pin grinding against the hitch while a truck is moving. This causes huge friction due to the sheer weight of the trailer attached, and it only takes a sudden maneuver to snap.

When a trailer is overloaded beyond its maximum capacity, it puts even more strain on the hitch and it may break down faster.

Who’s Liable in a Hitch Failure Accident?

If a motorist is injured in a truck accident because of a hitch failure, they are entitled to claim compensation for medical bills, out-of-pocket costs, and lost wages during recovery. They may also be entitled to additional damages for mental anguish, pain and suffering, and any other losses resulting from the accident.

But who is liable for the accident depends on how it happened.

Several people and parties are responsible for a truck:

  • The driver is responsible for securing the truck to the trailer and driving safely.
  • The truck company is responsible for inspecting and maintaining its fleet of trucks.
  • The cargo company is responsible for correctly loading the truck and ensuring the weight doesn’t exceed limits.
  • The hitch manufacturer is responsible for ensuring the hitch design is adequate and quality-tested to prevent it from breaking under slight pressure.

As we can see, multiple parties can be liable when a hitch failure happens, and this is only complicated by the fact that these responsibilities can overlap.

For example, the manufacturer may be liable if a hitch is defective because it’s made from a material that wears down quickly. However, the truck company may also be responsible for not spotting this during routine maintenance checks. If the truck company owner outsources maintenance to a repair shop, they may blame the repair shop for not identifying and fixing the faulty hitch.

Likewise, if a trailer is overloaded and the driver is distracted or speeding, they may cause a jackknife accident. This can cause the hitch to snap and the trailer to disengage. In this case, the cargo company may be liable for overloading the trailer, but the driver could also be at fault for failing to check the cargo and driving recklessly.

Ultimately, truck liability is a complex subject, so you shouldn’t hesitate to speak to a truck accident lawyer if you’re in a truck accident.

What to Do after a Hitch Failure Accident 

Immediately after your accident, you’re likely feeling vulnerable and in a lot of pain. You might also be wondering how you’re going to afford vehicle repair costs and the medical care you need. If a hitch failure caused your accident, it’s not your fault, and you shouldn’t have to face the financial consequences.

Your first step should be to visit a doctor to document your injuries and get the treatment you need. Aside from the fact that you may have severe injuries that need seeing to immediately, seeing a doctor provides your personal injury lawyer with valuable evidence to support your compensation claim.

Your medical records will reflect that your injuries happened during the accident, which means you can recover several expenses:

  • Fees for hospitalization and immediate treatment
  • The cost of surgery, medication, and any other tests
  • The cost of past and future physical therapy, rehabilitation, and aids to help you adapt to your injuries, such as a wheelchair and prosthetics
  • Your past and future lost wages.

Your next step should be to contact a truck accident lawyer. They can investigate your accident and determine who might be at fault. Your lawyer will also negotiate a settlement with the liable party’s insurance company to ensure you’re fairly compensated for your injuries.

However, time is of the essence. The personal injury statute of limitations in Texas is just two years. This might seem like a long time, but it goes by quickly. The sooner you take legal action, the sooner you get the settlement you deserve.

Our experienced personal injury lawyers in McAllen and San Antonio are dedicated to helping truck accident victims get the compensation and justice they deserve. We’ll handle every aspect of your claim so that you can focus on what’s important: your recovery.

Our personal injury lawyers in Texas work on a contingency basis, which means you’ll only ever pay legal fees if we win your case. We can also postpone the payment of your legal bills until after you receive a settlement. To get a free, no-obligation case review, contact The Patino Law Firm today by submitting the contact form or calling 855-LAW-NINJA.

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