Across the United States, around 3.5 million truck drivers help move the majority of the goods that travel across the country each day. Those drivers operate vehicles that must maintain specific safety standards to help protect other drivers on the road. The large mass of big trucks means that when malfunctions do occur, they can cause severe injuries to others that share the road with them. Unfortunately, some owners fail to properly maintain those vehicles, which can substantially raise the risk of severe accidents.
Common Types of Truck Defects and Malfunctions
As in a car, malfunctions can occur in any part of a big truck. However, some defects and malfunctions do occur more commonly than others. Poor maintenance can contribute substantially to the risks faced by truck drivers.
A truck’s brakes must have the capacity to stop up to 80,000 pounds of truck from moving forward. A truck’s braking system can prove much more complex than the braking system on a passenger vehicle and may require regular maintenance to keep it up and running. Unfortunately, some owners fail to keep up with brake maintenance.
Some companies may even require their drivers to complete a run even when it’s clear that the brakes have shown evidence of problems, which may raise the risk that the defect will cause a serious accident. Worse, truck brakes may overheat and cause serious problems, especially on hilly roads.
Engine failure can cause a vehicle to behave unpredictably. Sometimes, truck drivers may need to try to force an overheating engine to limp along until they can reach a service station. Other times, engine failures can cause drivers to need to pull off the road quickly.
Turn Signal/Brake Light Failures
Big trucks need more room to maneuver than the average passenger vehicle. If you notice a big truck signaling that it plans to come into your lane, you may want to back off and give the driver more room to maneuver. You certainly would not want to pull forward into the space the truck driver intends to occupy. Unfortunately, if the turn signals on a big truck fail, it can make it difficult for other drivers to determine where the truck intends to move, substantially increasing the risk of a serious accident.
Windshield Wiper Failure
The windshield wipers on a big truck take up a relatively small amount of space, but they serve a big purpose: keeping the windshield clear so that the driver can see what’s going on around the truck. If the windshield wipers fail, it can make it impossible for the driver to see. Drivers on a tight deadline, however, may try to stay on the road anyway, even with substantially decreased overall visibility. Drivers may also try to stay on the road until they reach a safe place to pull over or a truck stop where they can receive maintenance on the vehicle.
Tire blowouts occur when a tire suddenly sees a sharp increase in pressure, causing the tire to expand, break, and then deflate rapidly. Tire blowouts in big trucks can cause many of the same problems as a tire blowout in a passenger vehicle, including difficulty navigating safely. While big trucks generally do have more wheels to take on some of the burdens, a sudden tire blowout can cause the truck to swerve, which may increase the risk of accidents on the road.
In addition to problems with the truck itself, big trucks may face problems with the trailer that can raise the risk of accident and injury for others on the road. Sometimes, the latch holding the trailer may fail, causing the truck to dump cargo on the road. Unfortunately, at high rates of speed, other drivers may not have time to avoid this flying cargo. Other times, the latch holding the trailer to the truck may fail, causing it to detach. If the trailer detaches, the truck driver has no way to control it, which may lead to severe injury.
Who Bears Liability for Accidents Caused by Truck Defects and Malfunctions?
When a truck defect or malfunction causes an accident, it can lead to severe injuries and numerous hazards for other drivers who share the road with that truck. You may find yourself contending with high medical bills, lost time at work, and serious financial losses related to your truck accident.
Who bears liability for those accidents? After a truck accident, make sure you consult an attorney as soon as possible so that the attorney can evaluate the circumstances that may have led to your accident and give you a better idea of who, specifically, may bear liability for your injuries.
The Truck Driver
Ultimately, the driver of a big truck bears liability for anything that happens behind the wheel of that truck. Truck drivers often know their vehicles better than anyone else. Drivers may spend the majority of their waking hours behind the wheel, dealing with the unique problems associated with their vehicles.
Most of the time, when truck drivers get out of their vehicles at the end of a run, they must issue a report that shares anything that went wrong with the vehicle during the run, including any problems that arose or anything that changed since the last run. If a truck driver fails to identify a problem, causing maintenance to miss the issue, the driver may bear liability for an accident caused by that problem.
In some cases, truck drivers may also notice problems in the middle of a run. They may, for example, discover that their brakes do not seem to work normally, or that the engine temperature has risen higher than it should. If drivers continue their runs despite these challenges, and the problems with their vehicles later cause a severe accident, the drivers may bear liability.
Most truck drivers do carry substantial insurance policies with much higher coverage than those covered by the average passenger vehicle driver. If driver error causes a severe truck accident, contact an attorney to learn more about your right to compensation and how much compensation you can expect after a serious truck accident.
The Truck’s Owner
While some truck drivers own their own trucks, the majority are hired by a company to drive that company’s trucks. These companies often have their own unique maintenance policies and protocols. Sometimes, however, these policies will not include the maintenance that a truck needs to keep it running as smoothly as possible.
Trucking companies may, for example, have policies that put off needed maintenance for as long as possible to save on costs. In a fleet with dozens or hundreds of trucks, this may lead to substantial overall savings, but it can also severely increase the risk that a lack of maintenance will cause a serious error.
If company policy prevents needed maintenance on a truck, and that lack of maintenance later causes serious injuries, the trucking company may bear liability for the accident.
Some trucking companies take care of maintenance in-house. They employ their own mechanics, who must take care of any routine maintenance on the truck as well as managing any major repairs. If the company has an in-house mechanic, the trucking company may bear liability for a lack of proper maintenance that leads to serious injuries.
Other trucking companies, on the other hand, may choose to outsource their maintenance, or to take trucks to an outside mechanic to deal with serious issues. That mechanic bears a high duty of care, not only to the trucking company, but to others who must share the road with that truck. The mechanic must carefully evaluate the vehicle, find the source of the damage, and repair it.
The mechanic may, in several scenarios, bear liability for a mechanical error caused by his efforts.
- The mechanic fails to properly repair the truck, but certifies it as road-worthy anyway. The mechanic should carefully repair any problems with the truck before certifying it as ready to go back out on the road. Failure to repair those problems can leave the mechanic liable for injuries caused by that error.
- The mechanic does not evaluate the truck for further problems after completing the initial repairs. Some types of repairs may require more effort on the part of the mechanic than others. Sometimes, the mechanic may need to carefully evaluate the truck after completing the initial repairs to ensure that it does not need further maintenance. The mechanic may also bear liability for failing to spot an obvious problem while completing other repairs.
- The mechanic mistakenly damages the truck while conducting repairs. In some cases, the mechanic may cause damage to the truck while completing another set of repairs. The mechanic should then fix any problems caused by that error. Unfortunately, some mechanics may fail to take care of the problems they cause, often to save on costs.
When a brand new truck rolls out on the road, truck drivers and others on the road expect a high level of performance out of that truck. Unfortunately, sometimes, manufacturers may miss errors that can cause serious problems out on the road. If a defect causes an accident, the manufacturer may bear liability for failing to conduct proper safety testing before sending a truck out.
In some cases, the manufacturer of the truck itself may not bear liability for an error. Sometimes, mechanical failure may result from newly installed parts. If the truck driver uses the truck normally, and the part is installed correctly, but it fails and causes an accident, the manufacturer of that part may share liability for the accident.
What Should You Do After an Accident Caused By a Truck Defect or Malfunction?
Sometimes, you may clearly see that a truck defect or malfunction caused your accident. For example, if you see the truck’s cargo doors swing open, causing cargo to spill all over the road, you may know that a malfunction in the latch caused your accident. Likewise, if a truck driver cannot stop, you may reasonably conclude that a break malfunction led to the accident.
On the other hand, sometimes, you may not realize immediately that a mechanical problem with the truck led to the accident. For example, a truck driver could rear-end you for several reasons, including driver error or distraction. The truck driver’s foot could slip off the brakes, or he could increase his rate of speed too high to eliminate accident risk. Later investigation, however, could uncover the real cause of the accident: an error in the truck’s brake system.
To keep yourself safe and ensure that you identify all parties that may share liability for your truck accident, contact an experienced truck accident attorney as soon after your accident as possible. A truck accident attorney can help investigate your accident, including looking over any mechanical reports concerning the truck and identifying mechanical defects and malfunctions that may have led to your accident. Once you have identified the problem, you can then make sure the liable party faces the consequences of those mistakes.
You should also:
Seek medical attention, even if you think you did not suffer serious injury.
- Report the accident.
- Notify the police about any behavior you noted before the accident that could have indicated a mechanical defect or malfunction.
Did you suffer serious injuries in a truck accident? If you believe that a mechanical defect or malfunction may have contributed to your accident, contact a truck accident attorney as soon after your accident as possible. An attorney can help you understand more about your right to compensation and investigate the circumstances that led to your injuries. Your attorney will gather important evidence, speak to eyewitnesses, and consult experts if necessary, all to build you the strongest case possible and pursue maximum compensation on your behalf.