Trucks in Florida were involved in a total of 996 injury-causing accidents in 2017, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV). In roughly 23 percent of these accidents, the injuries were classified as incapacitating. Forty-six truck crashes were fatal. In fact, Florida made the top 10 list of U.S. states in which deadly truck accidents happened from 2014 to 2016.
Truck accidents can be devastating, because of the size and weight of trucks vis-à-vis other vehicles on the road. Trucking companies should be striving to the utmost to make sure their trucks are safe and that their drivers are well-trained and experienced.
Unfortunately, though, some trucking accidents are caused by mechanical failure. The brakes have become inefficient or are shot, so that the truck cannot stop in time to avoid other vehicles. The tires blow, causing an accident. The suspension or components don’t work properly, leading to an accident.
The number of truck accidents caused by mechanical failure hasn’t ever been precisely quantified. But a major review of truck accident causes, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study, found that 10 percent of all accidents were attributable to the vehicle. In addition, one of the potential mechanical issues surrounding trucks, brake failure, leads the list of factors in crashes. Brake failure was not the major factor in the accidents every time, but if it wasn’t major, it contributed.
What Injuries Stem From Mechanical Failure in Trucks?
Although mechanical failure is a specific cause, the types of accidents are similar to those that can stem from any cause, such as collisions or rollovers. Some mechanical failures can cause drivers to not be able to control their trucks on the road. Blown out tires, inadequate brakes, and problems with the transmission or steering can all contribute to that. Other mechanical failures, such as faulty wiring or failure of the headlights, can affect the driver’s ability to see. Missing or worn windshield wipers can also affect visibility in the weather is inclement or something is spilled on the windshield. If a driver can’t see, he can veer into other lanes, hit other vehicles because he didn’t see them, fail to yield the right of way, or even go off the road entirely.
People involved in a collision with a truck or hit by debris from a truck that has had an accident can be hurt in almost every way one can think of. If mechanical failure causes an accident with a truck carrying flammable liquid, the liquid can catch fire, causing burns. Many types of injuries can be catastrophic, causing the affected person to need care for life. The types of injuries can include:
- Bruises (contusions)
- Fractured bones
- Severe lacerations
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Spinal cord injury
- Nerve damage
- Damage to internal organs
- Loss of limb(s)
- Scarring or disfigurement
What Mechanical Failures Can Cause Truck Accidents?
What types of mechanical failure can cause truck accidents? Trucks are complicated, and individual elements and systems can both be included. Here is a rundown of the most common types of mechanical failure in trucks.
- Worn or defective brakes
- Lack of brake fluid
- Faulty brake lines
- Malfunctioning anti-lock brakes
- Worn or defective brake pads
- Worn or defective discs
- Broken, missing, or defective lights, including headlights, taillights, and signal lights
- Broken missing, or defective mirrors, including rear-view and side-view mirrors
- Worn or bald tires
- Blown-out tires
- Defective tires
- Over- or underinflated tires
- Faulty horns
- Failing transmission systems
- Inadequate or missing transmission fluid
- Failing steering systems, including the steering wheel, column, and other parts of the system
- Failing suspension systems
- Improperly installed rear guards
- Improperly attached rear guards
- Broken or worn windshield wipers
- Broken hitches and coupling devices
- Improperly installed hitches and coupling devices
How Will I Know if an Accident That Injured Me Was Caused by Mechanical Failure?
If you are injured in a truck accident, you could realize it was caused by mechanical failure. If a truck comes barreling out of nowhere with its headlights off at 10 p.m., you may think that the headlights have failed or that the bulbs have burned out.
But frankly, it’s more likely that you won’t know. A collision to most people unfortunate enough to be in one looks like a simple collision; many people may assume the cause is driver error. After all, if a truck runs a stop sign or red light, it looks like it’s the driver’s fault to most observers, let alone a victim of the ensuing crash. But a common mechanical failure, like worn brakes, may have caused the crash.
Truck accidents are often very complicated. Many accidents don’t have a single cause, but two or even more. In a particularly poorly maintained truck, for example, the brakes may be worn and the windshield wipers unable to provide sufficient visibility. The driver may be fatigued because he had been on the road for 11 hours, the mandated limit for a shift.
Because of the potential complexity of causes and the fact that the causes aren’t always immediately apparent, it’s often necessary to investigate the causes of truck accidents. Experienced attorneys can work with investigative teams to look at police reports, review records of maintenance, inspection, and repair, and look at the driver’s logs for weight station stops and hours of operation. Forensic analysis can help determine how an accident happened by looking at the patterns of the vehicles, trajectories, and other evidence from the accident scene. Investigators can also interview drivers of all vehicles, any occupants of the vehicles, and any witnesses. If any surveillance footage is available, it can also be reviewed.
If mechanical failure is a cause or one of the causes, the parties responsible for it can be liable.
Who’s Responsible for Mechanical Failure?
Mechanical failure can be a shared responsibility, but in many cases, organizations responsible for inspecting, maintaining, repairing, or servicing the truck will be responsible for mechanical failure. Drivers are often responsible for checking parts of the truck before they begin a run and after it, but they are not responsible for maintenance, repair, or servicing the vehicles, or for the type of periodic fleet inspections that commercial trucks should be undergoing.
Why are companies often responsible? Because they have a responsibility to the public to make sure their vehicles are safe on the roads. FMCSA mandates, in Section 396.3, that every motor carrier and equipment provider must “inspect, repair, and maintain” all of their motor vehicles in a systematic way. These regulations also allow these entities to direct other parties (such as repair shops or subcontractors) to do this inspection, repair, and maintenance.
These regulations also require all parts and accessories in every part of the truck to be in “safe and proper operating condition at all times.” In an explication of these regulations, FMCSA directs that keeping vehicles in safe operating condition should be part of a regular system of maintenance.
If followed and done well, these Federal mandates would eliminate a very large percentage of mechanical failure accidents. However, trucking companies may feel that repair, inspection, and maintenance keeps trucks off the road, rather than earning revenue by moving cargo. As a result, they may let too long go by between maintenance periods, skimp on maintenance and repair when it is performed, or pressure workers to do a quick job—not a thorough one. All of these activities are sometimes outsourced to subcontractors. Subcontractors may have the same type of issues, and not do an adequate job.
The causes of truck accidents can be complicated, and an investigation is often needed to find out exactly what the initial cause was, and if there were any contributing factors. The following parties could be part of any investigation about a mechanical failure that caused an accident.
Trucking Firms and Subcontractors
Trucking companies need to consistently inspect, repair, and maintain their fleets in accordance with FMCSA regulations. They are also required to keep records of all the times these activities were done and what occurred (e.g., tire replacement, transmission fluid added, and so on). Subcontractors also need to keep records of their work and what was done.
If you or a loved one were injured in a truck accident stemming from mechanical failure that was caused by poor inspection, repair, and maintenance, these records can be part of an investigation if you bring a legal claim for compensatory damages.
Ultimately, trucks on the road are produced by the company that made them. However, sometimes companies produce defective or unsafe products. If the trucks or a part of them are dangerous or defective, the manufacturer can be liable. If they become aware of safety issues or defects, they should warn the public and stop the manufacture. If they don’t, they can also be liable for an accident caused by the danger or defect.
Parts and Components Manufacturers
Trucks consist of multiple parts, components, and accessories, often made by manufacturers different from the companies that made the main truck. However, liability is similar: the manufacturer of a dangerous or defective part or component can be liable for its production and marketing. If they become aware that it’s dangerous or defective, they need to stop manufacture and warn the public as well.
CDL license holders are required to stop at weigh stations by both U.S. and state authorities. As noted above, they should also inspect the truck to make sure it is in good working order before starting out, and after coming back. Drivers should also obey traffic laws and the rules of the road, and take care to drive safely at all times.
All the entities enumerated above are held to a reasonable standard of care in the eyes of the law. They need to ensure that their vehicles, whether owned, serviced, or operated, are safe. If they don’t, the law says they have breached a duty of care. If this causes an accident, they can be judged responsible and liable for damages that are caused by the accident.
What Should I Do After a Truck Accident?
People in an accident should always remember, safety first. You need to get to a safe position on the road or area as the first order of business. If you or anyone else are visibly injured, or feel injured, call an ambulance immediately.
If there are no injuries, you should follow the same procedure as you do with any accident. Once you are in a safe place, call the police. The police will secure the area and compile an accident report. After you’ve called police, exchange insurance information and contact information with the other driver(s). Florida has no-fault insurance, which means that treatment for any injuries and repair of property damage is first paid out of your own insurance.
It’s very understandable that you may be shaken, distressed, or angry after an accident, but do not berate or lose your temper with any driver, occupant, law enforcement officer, or emergency responder. After you’ve exchanged information, tend to your needs as quickly as possible. If necessary, contact a towing company for your vehicle and arrange for your safe transport home.
Even if you don’t feel injured, it’s a very good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible. You can feel okay and still be injured in some way. A doctor will be able to assess the situation and prevent any harm that may come from not realizing that you are actually injured. It’s also a good idea to take pictures of your vehicle and the accident scene. If you end up making a legal claim, these are evidence of what occurred.
Although Florida has no-fault insurance, injured people are allowed to bring personal injury suits if they are severely injured. The specific state definition of severe injury is one that has caused:
- Permanent scarring and disfigurement
- Significant and permanent loss of a bodily function
- Serious permanent injury (other than disfigurement and scarring)
If you or a loved one were harmed in a truck accident and you believe it may have been caused by a mechanical failure, a licensed truck accident attorney can provide further information or assistance.