There are many reasons why an accidents happen. Distracted driving, speeding, and driving under the influence are just a few of the common causes of accidents in Pennsylvania. In most cases, the causes of accidents are preventable. It’s often a poor choice or lack of judgment that leads to a collision.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently released the Large Truck Crash Causation Study. The report detailed the primary causes of accidents, along with ancillary contributing factors. The report included 963 crashes involving 1,123 18-wheeler trucks and 959 other motor vehicles.
Before the study, many people believed that it was primarily driver error that we had to worry about. And while driver error was the leading cause of accidents in the sample group, the study brought to light another alarming cause: mechanical failure. According to the study, 10 percent of all accidents resulted from mechanical failure.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a truck accident, mechanical failure may be to blame. An experienced commercial vehicle attorney can help you determine the cause of your accident and help you seek appropriate compensation.
The Most Common Mechanical Failures in Truck Accidents
Driving next to a large truck on the road can be intimidating. Semi-trailer trucks are huge, with some outweighing passenger vehicles at a rate of 20 to 1. When we drive next to these vehicles, we rely on the drivers to practice safe driving habits and properly maintain their vehicles. Unfortunately, mechanical failure in truck accidents causes hundreds of collisions each year resulting in a variety of headaches whether they be literal, financial, convenience, or otherwise. These mechanical failures include:
A truck’s brakes are arguably one of the most important components of the vehicle. Drivers rely on brakes to bring the truck to a complete stop. When the brakes fail, however, the driver can lose control of the truck and crash into other objects or vehicles. Proper maintenance and inspection are each critical to ensuring effective brake deployment. Over the years, several studies have investigated the role of brakes (or the failure of) in truck accidents. A 2010 study found that, of the trucks involved in the Large Truck Crash Causation Study, 55 percent had at least one mechanical violation. Of those violations, brake issues led the way with over 36 percent of all mechanical violations.
There are two main reasons why truck tires fail: driver negligence and product defect. Worn-out or poorly maintained tires can lead to a tire blowout, which can be extremely dangerous for any vehicle in the truck’s path. When a tire blowout occurs, the driver can easily lose control of the truck. This may cause him or her to swerve into adjacent lanes. Another danger is the tire itself. During a blowout, scraps from the tire can scatter into the surrounding area. The tire pieces can obstruct a driver’s visibility, land in a vehicle’s path, or cause a driver to move into another lane to avoid the hazard.
Truckers rely on steering to move in and out of traffic. When the steering mechanisms fail, the driver may not be able to avoid hazards on the road. A truck’s steering system relies on steering fluid to work properly. When the fluid is not replaced or a driver misses an inspection, it can lead to an accident.
The transmission is responsible for shifting gears in the truck’s engine. This allows the truck to adjust speeds and provides power to haul loads up hills. The transmission is particularly vulnerable to wear and tear, especially if the truck is carrying a heavy load. Regular maintenance is essential to prevent transmission failure. Even when a driver meets regular maintenance requirements, the transmission may still have issues if the truck frequently carries loads above the recommended limit.
Trailer Coupling Detachment
The trailer coupling is the device that connects the truck to its trailer. A secure connection is important to ensure that the driver does not lose the load while traveling. A loose load can be extremely dangerous and cause severe damage to surrounding vehicles. The primary reasons for coupling failures include poor maintenance and driver error. Proper training is essential to ensure that drivers know how to connect and disconnect their trailers.
It may seem like broken or burnt-out lights are no big deal, but as drivers, we rely on headlights to alert us to the presence of another vehicle. Trucks are large vehicles and have lights that line the side of the vehicle as well as front and rear lights. When these lights are not functioning, you may not be able to see the truck until it’s too late.
Broken or Worn Windshield Wipers
Like lights, windshield wipers may seem like a minor issue. In inclement weather, though, drivers rely on their wipers to maintain visibility. When wipers are worn or otherwise broken, a truck driver may not be able to see oncoming traffic or cars or other objects in front of them.
Defective or Absent Rearguard
According to a recent report from the United States Government Accountability Office, an average of 219 underride accidents were reported every year between 2008 and 2017. An underride accident happens when a passenger vehicle becomes pinned under a big rig (usually the back of the trailer) and is dragged under the vehicle. While these accidents account for a small percentage of all truck accidents, they are often fatal.
Federal law requires most large trucks to have a rearguard on the back. If a rearguard is defective, improperly installed, or not present at all, the driver or trucking company may hold partial liability.
How Is Vehicle Maintenance Monitored?
The number one way to reduce the risk of accidents caused by mechanical failure is to properly maintain and inspect all trucks on the road. Federal law requires all drivers to complete daily inspections. At the end of the day, the driver must inspect the truck and report any visible defects or deficiencies. If these issues interfere with the truck’s safety, the truck must remain parked until repairs are complete. The driver should do a thorough inspection of the vehicle, but the FMCSA specifically requires the inspection to include the following items:
- Parking brake
- Steering mechanism
- Lighting devices and reflectors
- Windshield wipers
- Rear vision mirrors
- Coupling devices
- Wheels and rims
- Emergency equipment
All motor carriers must maintain these reports for three months. In the event of an accident, your attorney will be able to request a copy of these reports. In addition to daily inspections, every truck must undergo an annual inspection by a qualified inspector. The results of this inspection must be kept in the vehicle at all times. A truck that does not pass this inspection is not legally allowed to be on the road.
Liability Regarding Mechanical Failure
When it comes to an accident, the driver usually holds most of the responsibility. But what happens when there is a mechanical failure? Various parties may hold a degree of responsibility in the event of an accident. These parties may include:
- The driver: The truck driver is ultimately responsible for making sure that his or her vehicle is safe. It is the drivers’ responsibility to inspect their vehicles, review any reports, and ensure compliance with mandatory inspections. If drivers knowingly drive their trucks in poor condition or fail to perform the required inspections, they will likely hold the bulk of the responsibility.
- The trucking company: While the driver is responsible for completing inspections, the trucking company is responsible for ensuring compliance with the inspections. The company has a duty to review the reports to ensure completeness and accuracy. They must maintain accurate and complete records and fix any reported problems. Additionally, the trucking company is responsible for properly training drivers on how to complete inspections.
- The truck or parts manufacturer: Sometimes, parts don’t work the way they should. Manufacturing defects or design problems can cause a part to fail. In many cases, these defective parts don’t get noticed until it is too late.
- Maintenance personnel: Vehicle maintenance is an important part of keeping other drivers safe. Truck drivers are generally not licensed mechanics. Rather, they rely on professionals to service their trucks. Improper inspections or inadequate parts can cause the truck to not work properly.
Determining the Cause of an Accident
In many cases, a truck’s mechanical failure may not be immediately obvious. Because we cannot see the underlying issues, it may be easy to assume the accident was a result of driver error. Mechanical failure in truck accidents is not information that a trucking company will typically readily volunteer. Admitting that a mechanical issue led to an accident can open the company up to claims of negligence and other legal troubles.
Without an experienced attorney, proving mechanical failure can be difficult, if not impossible. After an accident, your attorney can request maintenance and inspection records and call in expert witnesses. In some cases, an accident reconstruction expert can analyze the evidence and provide information on the root cause of the accident.
Minimizing Financial Impant of Mechanical Failure in Truck Accidents
If you are in an accident, it’s hard to move on; the physical and emotional trauma can feel overwhelming. A personal injury claim can help you recover costs related to your care and help the healing process to begin. The amount of compensation that you receive will depend on several factors, including which parties are at fault and the severity of your injuries. Factors typically considered in a personal injury claim include:
- Medical costs: After an accident, your medical costs can easily add up. Injuries from a truck accident can surpass $100,000. In a personal injury case, these costs are often reimbursed dollar-for-dollar. Coverage includes most medical care, including doctor visits, medical imaging, lab tests, surgeries, medication, medical transportation, and physical therapy. If your injuries are substantial, you may have a claim for future medical costs.
- Lost wages: An injury can cause you to miss time at work. The loss of income can make it difficult to pay bills and take care of everyday expenses. Lost wages cover time missed as a result of the accident, including any time needed for recovery. In serious cases, you may be eligible for future lost wages or loss of earning capacity.
- Pain and suffering: Pain and suffering are considered a non-economic cost. This simply means that there is no easy way to quantify this type of damage. Pain and suffering include both physical pain and mental pain. This includes, among many other mental disorders, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
- Loss of enjoyment: A permanent disability can make you unable to participate in activities you once enjoyed. This may include recreational activities or day-to-day tasks, like caring for the family. It can also include the effect an emotionally traumatic event or circumstance has on your ability to participate in these activities. When you are unable to do things you once loved, you deserve compensation for this loss.
- Loss of companionship: A serious injury, such as a traumatic brain injury or a spinal cord injury, can affect a person’s ability to be a part of a loving relationship. This can include emotional companionship, physical companionship, and/or sexual companionship.
- Home modifications: Injuries that limit your mobility may require home modifications to allow you to get around. Common adaptive devices include ramps, rails, grab bars, and widened doorways.
- Wrongful death: Unfortunately, large truck accidents often result in fatalities. Wrongful death claims can never take away the pain of your loss, but they can help cover outstanding bills and funeral costs.
Know When to Seek Legal Help
Truck accident cases are often extremely complicated, depending on the specific circumstances surrounding the accident. These cases may involve multiple parties and do not always have a direct cause. In many scenarios, these accidents lead to severe, life-changing injuries. Knowing who holds responsibility and making a claim against all responsible parties can help you maximize your compensation, including collecting compensation for future costs and losses. If you or a loved one is injured in an accident, you want someone by your side to help you fight to protect your rights. Contact an experienced truck accident attorney for more information.