You have likely seen emergency runaway truck ramps located strategically along New Mexico's roads. These ramps are there for safety purposes, particularly for use by trucks when their brakes fail. And fail they often do. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which published a report to Congress on a large truck crash causation study in 2006, “brake problems were coded for almost 30 percent of the trucks but only 5 percent of the passenger vehicles.” In other words, brake problems, including brake failure, caused roughly 30 percent of all crashes involving trucks.
If you have been involved in an accident caused by a truck, then there is a good chance that the cause, in part at least, was something to do with the brake system. When that happens, it may not just be the driver of the truck who is liable for any or all of your damages, there may be more parties from which to collect damages. Truck accidents, because of their very nature, can be some of the most devastating accidents with regard to personal injuries, but they can also be some of the more complex cases when it comes to filing claims and/or complaints.
Defective Brakes: How Does It Happen?
Brakes for any vehicle must be regularly maintained and inspected, but it is especially true for semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, or commercial trucks generally. The long distance driving, the heavy loads, among other factors, weigh heavily on the use and abuse to a truck's braking system. Care is necessary to keep the brakes in optimal working condition. If brake failure happens, then serious accidents can result, which also includes serious or fatal personal injuries.
Common Causes of Brake Failure
- Overheated brakes
- Worn tires
- Breaks suffused with oil/grease
- Overly thin brake pads
Though the above list is of “common” causes of brake failure, the primary cause is inadequate truck maintenance that results in these “secondary” causes. Federal laws require adequate, systemic maintenance. Federal trucking laws also require that truck drivers keep informed of the condition of their trucks' brakes at all times. With that said, truck drivers are the ultimate party responsible if the brakes fail, but that does not mean they are the only responsible party.
Defective Brakes: Who Is to Blame?
When brakes fail, there could be a number of persons or entities responsible for it, and each of them will likely point the blame to the other part. These parties include the truck driver, the truck loading company, the truck's mechanic, the truck's owner/operator, and/or the brake manufacturer.
The Truck Driver. For obvious reasons, the truck driver is always the first to blame. He or she has direct control over the truck and the primary responsibility to secure its maintenance and overall upkeep, including the braking system. A truck driver is required by federal law to keep maintenance records and perform regular, even daily, inspections.
The Truck Loading Company. If loaders do not evenly distribute the contents and weight properly, it can overheat the brakes and cause them to malfunction.
The Truck's Mechanic. A mechanic's negligence can lead to problems if he or she failed to identify or do something that caused the brakes to malfunction.
The Truck's Owner/Operator. In an effort to reduce the expense of brake wear and replacement, sometimes owners and/or operators will deliberately depower the front brakes and will stop or slow the truck by relying on (1) the trailer brakes; and (2) downshifting. This practice can lead to issues with the brake system, especially in emergency situations.
The Brake Manufacturer. The federal government has strict regulations with regard to a truck's braking system. Each braking system must meet certain criteria for safety, and it is up to the brake manufacturer to design a braking system that is in compliance. Sometimes, however, the braking system is in compliance, but a defect occurs during the manufacturing process. In either case, a claim can be made against the manufacturing company.
Truck Accidents: Investigating the Cause of Possible Brake Failure
Whenever a truck causes an accident that results in serious or fatal personal injuries, a thorough investigation must be conducted and a good place to start is with the persons involved in the crash and any other eyewitnesses. One or more may be able to indicate if brake failure was a factor. Depending on their responses, a good starting point for the investigation may be with the brakes. An experienced attorney will know how to go about obtaining the proper maintenance and inspection documentation to commence the investigation. There are a lot of factors that could be involved, especially since brakes do not fail on their own.
If you've been in an accident caused by a truck driver and sustained serious injuries, you need to speak with an experienced, resourceful attorney who knows both the law and the process. For an initial, free consultation, call Revo Smith Law today at (505) 293-8888.