Have you recently been in an accident with a truck? Did the truck have a mechanical failure, including either a brake failure or a tire blow out? According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), you are not alone: malfunctioning parts on trucks cause over 10 percent of all trucking accidents.
The USDOT further reports that brake failure – a type of mechanical failure – is the number one cause of all trucking accidents. In most mechanical failure cases, the problem is preventable with regular truck service and maintenance. However, trucking companies and truck drivers will often sacrifice compliance with regulations to avoid the economic loss of having a truck off the road.
Trucking accidents can be catastrophic. Trucks are significantly heavier and larger than other types of vehicles and, when involved in accidents, can cause severe injuries, permanent disabilities, and fatalities. Trucking companies have a corporate responsibility to ensure their vehicles are properly maintained and in good working condition. This responsibility is in place to protect other motorists. Truck accidents due to mechanical failure are possibly avoidable when trucks comply with federal and state law regulations.
Federal Regulation of Trucking Companies
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a branch of the USDOT, regulates the trucking industry. FMCSA has specific rules requiring trucking companies to maintain their vehicles in good working order. Under federal law, every “motor carrier and intermodal equipment provider must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired, and maintained, all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control.”
The parts and accessories that can affect a truck’s safe operation—and must be regularly inspected—include frame and frame assemblies, suspension systems, axles and attaching parts, wheels and rims, brakes, and steering systems.
In other words, federal law mandates that all trucking companies must regularly inspect or hire someone to inspect and maintain their vehicles regularly. A truck that does not pass inspection is not legally permitted to be out on the road. In addition to inspections and maintenance, federal law requires trucking companies to maintain records on each vehicle.
Federal law also requires truck drivers to prepare daily reports detailing the condition of each of the following parts and accessories:
- Parking brake
- Steering mechanism
- Lighting devices and reflectors
- Windshield wipers
- Rear vision mirrors
- Coupling devices
- Wheels and rims
- Emergency equipment
Truck drivers must maintain these reports for three months. In the event of a collision, victims can access records of reports kept before the accident.
What Types of Mechanical Failures Frequently Cause Trucking Accidents?
While many factors can contribute to trucking accidents, such as driver negligence and poor weather, mechanical failure is one of these devastating events’ most common causes.
Many different types of mechanical failures contribute to trucking accidents, including:
- Brake failure: Brake failure is the number one cause of all trucking accidents, per FMCSA’s Large Truck Causation Study. Brake failure commonly stems from issues with (1) Poorly adjusted brakes; (2) Overheated brakes; (3) Incorrect air pressure; and (4) Worn or old brake parts. Brake failure is preventable by proper inspection, repair, and truck driver training. Truck drivers must know how to handle their vehicles in the event of inclement weather or difficult terrain. Failing brakes can prevent a truck driver from stopping in enough time to avoid an accident. In certain situations, misaligned brakes can cause a truck to overturn, resulting in debris spreading across the road and concurrent collisions.
- Tire blowout or failure: The chances of tire failure or blowout occurring is greater when truck drivers fail to ensure that tires are properly inflated and pressurized. Given the extreme cost associated with maintaining and changing tires, some trucking companies choose to allow tires to wear beyond what’s determined safe despite the enormous risk that accompanies such neglectful actions.
- Broken or malfunctioning lights: Proper functioning headlights, brake lights, and taillights serve the crucial function of notifying other drivers on the road of the presence of a truck, especially at night. When a truck operates with broken or malfunctioning lights, the likelihood of collisions occurring increases substantially. During the day, functioning lights play an essential role in signaling lane changes and other maneuvers to motor vehicles on the road.
- Transmission failure: When a truck is overloaded with cargo or carries too much weight, there is a higher likelihood that transmission failure might occur. If the transmission fails, the truck driver will lose control of the truck, or the vehicle will slow to a full stop, leading to possible collisions with other vehicles on the road.
- Steering or suspension failure: If a truck’s steering fails, the truck driver loses all control of the vehicle. Without proper maintenance, suspension and steering issues can often go unnoticed. Overloaded cargo or excess weight in trailers can also create steering and suspension issues for truck drivers, resulting in an increased risk of accidents.
- Windshield wiper failure: Windshield wiper failure can be catastrophic for truck drivers when driving in inclement weather conditions. A truck’s windshield wipers must be maintained and functioning well given the unpredictable weather conditions that can arise when traveling long distances, as trucks frequently do.
- Rear guard failure: A rearguard is a metal bar installed underneath a truck’s tailgate designed to prevent smaller vehicles from sliding under the truck in the event of a collision. If the driver installs this guard and it is not adequately maintained and subsequently fails, devastating injuries can result if the truck collides with another vehicle.
- Hitch malfunction: More commonly known as coupling failure, a hitch malfunction can cause a truck to lose one of its trailers (or cabs). If a trailer detaches from a truck, especially when the vehicle is traveling at high speeds, the results can be catastrophic.
What Types of Injuries Do Truck Mechanical Failures Cause?
If a truck has a mechanical failure resulting in an accident, other motorists on the road can be severely injured.
Common types of injuries stemming from truck mechanical failures include:
- Fractured bones
- Severe lacerations
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
- Nerve damage
- Internal organ damage
- Scarring or disfigurement
- Loss of limb(s)
Many of these injuries can be life-threatening. In severe cases, motorists injured in a truck accident may require around the clock care for the remainder of their lives.
Who Is Liable for Truck Mechanical Failure?
In motor vehicle accidents, the car driver who caused the accident bears the most, if not all, the responsibility, with few exceptions. When truck mechanical failure is the cause of a collision, victims involved in these types of truck accidents can potentially hold multiple parties liable for damages to the vehicle or other property and injuries to themselves and passengers.
Parties responsible might include:
- Truck drivers: Victims in truck accidents can potentially hold truck drivers liable for mechanical failure if they fail to report mechanical issues in their daily maintenance reports or if they knowingly drive their trucks in poor conditions. Employers expect drivers to inspect and monitor their trucks routinely, and federal and state laws and regulations render this expectation non-negotiable. Drivers are responsible for reporting back to the trucking company or subcontractor any potential issues or red flags.
- Trucking companies and subcontractors: Drivers are ultimately responsible for completing safety inspections and ensuring their trucks are in good working order before taking them out on the road, but the trucking companies are also responsible for ensuring their drivers’ compliance with federal and state inspection requirements. These companies have a duty of care to examine inspection and driver reports and fix any reported problems with their trucks. Trucking companies are also responsible for adequately training their drivers. Victims can potentially hold employers liable for accident injuries when they fail to fulfill their responsibilities.
- Truck or parts manufacturers: If an analysis of the truck finds that a truck part is defective, the victim can also seek to hold the manufacturer potentially liable. If a truck part does not work as advertised, leading to mechanical failure and a subsequent accident, manufacturer liability might apply.
- Maintenance professionals: Maintenance personnel hired to conduct required inspections are potentially liable if the inspection was improper or inadequate and mechanical failure of the truck occurred as a result.
While trucking companies and motorists usually have some type of insurance policy coverage, an individual injured in an accident due to truck mechanical failure may have an available state tort law remedy. For example, the victim can potentially sue the trucking company for negligence per se for failing to monitor truck inspections.
If there’s a defective part, victims can subject manufacturers to a potential product liability claim. Insurance policies can undoubtedly affect the overall compensation an accident victim may receive, but parties can potentially be liable for negligence and other torts.
Corporate Responsibility of Trucking Companies
Federal and state laws subject trucking companies to strict regulations, but they also have a responsibility to not put safety over profits.
A responsible trucking company adheres to all federal and state regulations, specifically truck inspections and maintenance. Companies should conduct all required truck maintenance checks and invest in replacement parts needed to improve their trucks’ safety.
Most importantly, a trucking company should not skimp on repairs nor allow trucks not regularly inspected for mechanical issues to go out on the roads. The risks associated with accidents caused by mechanical failures are not worth the money saved and can lead to higher costs resulting from settlements and compensation awards.
Trucking companies typically maintain commercial trucking insurance as required by federal and state law. Primary liability coverage is a mandatory part of operating under a trucking license—all trucking companies must, therefore, have primary liability insurance. State law also requires all trucking companies to have general liability insurance.
In addition to required primary and general liability coverage, many companies have insurance coverage for physical damage, cargo damage, medical payments, and personal injuries.
A responsible trucking company should be committed to improving driver safety on the road. Many companies require their truck drivers to undergo driver safety programs and learn how to maintain detailed logs outlining mechanical issues. Safety of truck drivers and others who share the road is paramount and trucking companies must hire drivers that meet USDOT’s licensing requirements and mandate substance abuse testing per USDOT regulations.
While FMCSA and other state agencies have strict regulations regarding truck inspections, insurance, and record-keeping, trucking companies sometimes fail to adhere to these regulations. Aside from breaking the law and failing to uphold their corporate responsibility, these poor decisions put truck drivers and other motorists at extreme risk of harm.
Need a Truck Accident Lawyer?
If you were in a truck accident and have reason to believe that the accident resulted from the truck’s mechanical failure, you may want to seek legal advice from an attorney. A truck accident attorney can inform you of your rights and legal remedies and help you better evaluate and understand the circumstances surrounding your accident, including the type of mechanical failure that may have directly caused the accident and your resulting injuries. Contact an attorney who can also determine who might be responsible for the mechanical failure and incurred damages.
Patino Law Firm
1802 N 10th St
McAllen, TX 78501