The major players in the trucking industry have policies and procedures to help prevent mechanical failures in their fleet. Industry experts seem to agree that the majority of the causes of truck accidents are human errors such as excessive speed, distractions, and impairment.
However, sometimes a malfunction is to blame. An error is a mistake made by a person, but a defect is a discrepancy between what is expected and what actually happens. A malfunction is the consequence of a defect. Not all companies establish the right procedures to keep their vehicles safe while out on the road. Unfortunately, mechanical failures still occur.
Widespread shutdowns during the pandemic severely impacted the supply chain and made 2020 a stressful year for fleet owners. Reduction in the price of trucking services could ultimately result in cutbacks in vehicle maintenance and purchasing new equipment. It would not be unusual to discover that trucking companies falsified regulatory documents concerning compliance with safety regulations.
You can hold truck owners responsible for accidents if they send a truck on the road with known mechanical issues, or advise mechanics to overlook potential problems.
Many Types Mechanical Failures Can Either Cause or Contribute to a Truck Accident
Brake failure is a common cause of truck accidents. Large commercial vehicles need 40 percent more distance to come to a stop than a passenger car when all systems are operating perfectly. Faulty brakes can increase the stopping time of a large commercial vehicle and may lead to catastrophic accidents, especially while traveling in adverse conditions such as inclement weather, bad visibility, heavy traffic, and roadway construction areas.
Carelessness is the most common cause of truck defective-brake accidents.
Brake failure may stem from problems with:
- Worn discs
- Maladjusted brakes
- Overheated brakes
- Incorrect air pressure
- Thinning brake pads
- Faulty brake lines
- Leaking brake fluids
- Anti-lock brake system (ABS) malfunction
- Infrequent inspection
To save money, drivers or fleet owners may ignore safety standards and:
- Disconnect the lines to the front brakes relying on the trailer brakes to stop the vehicle
- Fail to do a brake inspection before a trip (this is a federal mandate)
- Neglect to sufficiently train new drivers
- Ignore manufacturer recalls
Unbalanced, unsecured, and overweight cargo can affect a truck’s maneuverability and place undue stress on the brakes causing them to malfunction. An overloaded vehicle is less responsive to proper turning technique, and can tip over or jackknife. Brake failure can cause rear-end collisions, intersection accidents, and crashes due to excessive speeding.
When a tire ruptures, it loses its air pressure very rapidly. The sudden loss of control of a large commercial vehicle poses a danger to all drivers on the roadway. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) conducts an annual international road check throughout the United States and Canada. This three-day event “identifies and removes unsafe commercial motor vehicles and drivers from our roadways.”
The 2020 event took place September 9-11 and 45,046 inspections were completed. In the United States, 7,256 vehicles and 2,365 drivers received out-of-service violations. Brake systems, tires, and lights were cited as the top three violations. Cracks or bulging in tire sidewalls, uneven tread wear, or tires that vibrate are all danger signs.
Other causes of tire malfunctions:
- Overloaded trucks
- Over or under-inflated tires
- Tread damage
- Improper tire mounting
- Mismatched tires
- Prolonged use of spare tires
- Old tires
Proper tire care means rotating tires regularly, keeping a close eye on the tire tread, paying attention to tire recalls, and replacing old tires.
Malfunctioning truck lights are among the most common mechanical failures. There are federal standards in place concerning the proper lighting of tractor-trailers. In addition to headlights, brake lights, and taillights, turn signals must properly function. Trucks need side markings made of reflective material at the bottom of each side panel of the trailer. Front, middle, and rear side-marker lights must also comply with federal standards. There is a real and potentially deadly danger from truck lights that do not conform to regulations. Substandard inspections, dirty reflective surfaces, and broken or burned-out lights are serious safety concerns.
Additionally, these warning light indicators require immediate attention if not functioning properly:
- Engine temperature
- Check engine lights
- Airbag indicators
- Traction, and stability warning lights
Inclement weather impacts roadway safety. Rainfall can influence roadway accidents by affecting pavement conditions as well as driver behavior. Over 60 inches of rain was recorded in Florida in 2020.
The vast majority of most weather-related crashes happen on wet pavement and during rainfall: 70 percent on wet pavement and 46 percent during rainfall, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration.
Broken windshield wipers can contribute to highway truck accidents because truck drivers must see clearly during heavy rainfall. Time constraints and deadlines can often cause a driver to soldier through a storm with broken or missing wipers. The risks of rear-end collisions and over-ride accidents are possible when operating any vehicle, especially a large truck, with malfunctioning windshield wipers. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulation 392,14 requires drivers to use extreme caution when hazardous conditions adversely affect visibility or traction.
A faulty transmission is one of the most common types of mechanical failure, causing truck accidents nationwide. The leading cause of transmission failure is not following the manufacturer’s maintenance recommendations for both the engine and transmission. Truckers must change fluids and filters according to mileage and time recommendations. This is especially important when the truck carries heavy cargo. Overloaded cargo and improperly balanced freight can overtax the transmission to the point of failure.
Truck drivers need to recognize a faulty transmission:
- The vehicle slips out of gear
- A leak of transmission fluid
- The truck is hard to get in gear
- There is a lack of power during acceleration
- Grinding noises
- Rough shifting
- Sluggish clutch
Steering and Suspension
A truck driver has no control of his or her vehicle without properly functioning steering and suspension. These issues tend to surface only during critical problems, making timely maintenance imperative.
A steering system failure can make the big rig unsafe at any speed.
Steering systems can break down or fail because of:
- Manufacturing flaws
- Lack of maintenance
- Pump malfunction
- Fluid leaks
- Fluid contamination
- Blocked hoses
- Worn out power steering belt
- Overloaded cargo
- Improper driving technique
A hitch failure can cause a commercial truck’s trailer to come loose or unhinged on the highway while traveling at high speeds. This kind of mechanical failure can cause runaway truck accidents, jack-knife accidents, and rollovers. Semi-trucks are articulated vehicles, meaning they are two separate parts held together by a coupling hitch. When they become disarticulated, the trailer and the cab travel in different directions—with the trailer totally out of human control. Coupling malfunction can happen with the hitch or the trailer.
Coupling device failure happens because of:
- Defective design
- Defective manufacturing process
- Improper positioning or installation
- Poor inspection procedures
- Driver error
- Rusty latches
- Overloaded trailers
- Unbalanced cargo
- Trailer sway
- High winds
Accident reconstruction and forensic analysis are often necessary following this type of malfunction to determine exactly how the cab and trailer separated. The cause can help investigators to determine who may be held liable for damages resulting from the incident. It is easy to see how important coupling is to overall highway safety.
In its medical examiner handbook, the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) instructs physicians to screen potential drivers for musculoskeletal diseases that may lessen the strength and agility required to properly complete the task of securing the two parts of a tractor-trailer together.
Insufficient or Missing Rear Guards
Under-ride guards are located in the rear of a tractor-trailer to prevent a smaller vehicle from sliding under a truck in an accident. The injuries from this type of accident are almost always fatal. These rear guards are required under federal law for most trucks and must be installed properly and at the correct height to be effective. Side guards and front guards are not mandated, but if present they may help mitigate the catastrophic physical damage caused when vehicles collide at a high rate of speed or an angle.
Who May Cause Mechanical Failures
Although the theories of liability and compensation for personal injury are basic and straightforward, the law, unfortunately, is not. Truck accidents are complicated. When someone, or something, either intentionally, or negligently, causes a bodily injury or damages to personal property, the injured party rightfully expects financial compensation. Insurance carriers are relentless in their attempt to mitigate losses for their insureds. Make no mistake, they will use every available resource at their disposal to avoid paying damages.
The causes of truck accidents are also 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 held liable for a mechanical failure that caused an accident:
- Trucking companies
- Fleet owners
- Truck manufacturers
- Parts manufacturers
- The mechanic
- Cargo loaders
- Truck driver
Financial Recovery Is Possible
The consequences of a personal injury can be life-changing for those involved in a truck accident, and for their families. No one should bear the financial burden of someone else’s negligence. If a truck accident is the result of a big rig’s parts or system failure, the fleet owner, maintenance provider, parts distributor, manufacturer, or truck driver may be liable for accident victims’ injuries and other losses. If you were injured in a truck accident, and if an equipment malfunction was the underlying cause, you may be entitled to seek financial recovery.
Injuries sustained in a truck accident are often severe and can significantly change the quality of life for the injured person and his or her entire family.
Some of the common injuries in these accidents are:
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Spinal cord injury
- Broken Bones
- Organ Damage
- Nerve Damage
- Chest Compression Injuries
- Vision Loss or Reduction
Compensation for financial losses may include:
- Medical expenses—past and future
- Rehabilitation costs
- Property damage repair or replacement
- Accommodations and assistive devices
- Renovations to make a home or vehicle accessible
- Lost wages and loss of employment opportunities
Additionally, compensation for non-economic damage is possible. For example:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of companionship or consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Changes in family relationships
- Emotional distress
- Disfigurement and/or permanent physical impairment
Throughout the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the judicial system in Florida slowed down, but the statute of limitations did not. The clock continues to tick on the four-year time frame to initiate a claim, and two years for a wrongful death suit. Truck accident cases often require a detailed examination of the carrier’s maintenance records and black box data. Trucking companies are only required to retain certain records for 30 days. Contact a lawyer as soon as possible after a wreck to help avoid having crucial documentation destroyed.
From start to finish, a personal injury truck accident claim can be a lengthy process. Fair and just compensation are directly proportional to the expertise of a qualified legal team.
Big rig accidents are, more often than not, debilitating. After a truck accident, there is no substitute for an experienced law firm to stand with you and speak for you against the person legally responsible for your damages and losses. Attorneys understand that every claim has a physical and emotional component, and each one is personal. A truck accident attorney can provide a powerful voice to your case. Contact a truck accident lawyer today to discuss your legal options.