Anytime an 18-wheeler accident is caused by a mechanical failure, trucking companies are quick to emphasize the random nature of accidents, in general, and mechanical failure, specifically.
To hear them tell it, perfectly maintained trucks are rolling merrily down the highway when lightning strikes, storm clouds roll in, the heavens open up, and localized Armageddon strikes the unsuspecting truck. The next thing you know, a piece of the truck falls off, or the brakes fail, and an accident happens. If a jury believes their version of events, you could see how hard it would be to hold a trucking company at fault for the mechanical failure.
Every day, across the country, insurance adjusters for trucking companies spin a similar fairy tale to people who have been injured in an accident involving a commercial vehicle. You see, contrary to popular belief, personal injury laws do not state that you are entitled to compensation following an accident. Instead, personal injury laws are "fault-based" laws, meaning that you are only owed compensation after you successfully prove the merits of your case. Sometimes this can be done outside of court, sometimes it must be done in front of a jury. But no matter how you slice it, trucking companies will never voluntarily pay for their mistakes, and the only way you can make them pay is if you can make them worried about how a jury would punish them.
So, you can see why trucking companies would want to spin the truth after one of their poorly maintained vehicles does something that hurts you. But, rest assured, our truck accident attorneys know how to prove their liability and get you fair and just compensation.
Questions answered on this page.
- What are common mechanical problems with commercial vehicles?
- What are the rule for maintenance?
- How do these rules affect you and your truck accident injury claim?
- How can an experienced truck accident injury attorney benefit your case?
Common mechanical problems in truck accidents.
The many ways in which 18-wheelers can fail mechanically causing wrecks are too numerous to list, but among the most common are:
- Brakes - If the 18-wheeler's brakes fail, then it can rear-end another vehicle or slam into stationary objects like a bridge, a guardrail, or even a house. When the 18-wheeler picks up a large amount of steam, the effect of such a collision can be devastating. This is why steep downgrades on mountainous highways will often feature run-off lanes for trucks.
- Steering - When the steering ability of the driver is lost, then the truck turns into a an uncontrollable battering ram that will destroy anything in its way.
- Tires Blowing Out - An 18-wheeler is cumbersome enough to operate when all of its tires are doing their job. However, a blowout or tire delamination can send the 18-wheeler bouncing unexpectedly into the next lane. Sometimes tire blowouts occur due to bad luck, but other times they happen because retread tires have been mounted on the 18-wheeler when new tires are required.
- Tires Fall Off - While a tire blowing out can make an 18-wheeler hard to handle, a tire falling off altogether makes the behemoth truck nearly impossible to control.
- Headlights Burned Out - If it's nighttime, then you need to be able to see oncoming trucks. If the headlights on the truck aren't operating properly, then you won't see the 18-wheeler until the last second, when being cognizant of a semi-truck in your path obviously does you very little benefit.
- Brake Lights Malfunctioning - While it's important to know when a truck is coming toward you at night, it's also important to know when the truck in front of you is slowing down. If the truck's brake lights are broken, then your car may collide with the truck.
- Turn Signals Malfunctioning - Trucks take wide turns, so you need to know when one is about to make a right-hand or left-hand turn, or your car may get clipped.
- Truck Trailer Lights Out - Every trailer beyond a certain length is required to have reflector lights running along the body of the trailer. The purpose of these lights is to allow oncoming traffic to spot the truck when it's making a turn and crossing the road. Without these lights, the trailer can be virtually invisible in certain lighting conditions, making it a danger to any approaching vehicle.
What do maintenance rules mean for your truck accident case?
According to rule 396.3 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) guidelines:
Every motor carrier and intermodal equipment provider must systematically, inspect, repair, and maintain, or cause to be systematically inspected, repaired and maintained, all motor vehicles and intermodal equipment subject to its control...[p]arts and accessories shall be in safe and proper operating condition at all times.
Additionally, the trucking company is required to keep records of maintenance for any vehicle that it owns for longer than 30 days, and these records must be continually filed and stored while they own the vehicle and for one and a half years after the motor carrier leaves their control.
That simply means that the government requires trucking companies to maintain their vehicles and keep maintenance records. Even without federal regulations, common law theories of liability hold that companies have a duty to properly maintain their trucks, so as not to endanger the general public. After all, the roads that trucking companies use to make their living are paid for through taxes that are paid by all of us. It only makes sense that they don't use the roads that are built by the general public, to endanger said public.
If you suspect a mechanical failure may have contributed to your 18-wheeler accident, then you need the help of an experienced 18-wheeler accident attorney whom you can trust to get to the bottom of whether or not the trucking company adequately maintained the vehicle. If it did and the accident was caused by a mechanical malfunction, then the trucking company will likely blame the manufacturer of the vehicle for the accident. If it didn't maintain the vehicle as required to do so by FMCSA regulations, then you can pursue compensation from the trucking company with a personal injury lawsuit.
That's when you'll need an exceptional lawyer, who not only can subpoena the records of the trucking company, but has the necessary experience to spot irregularities in maintenance records once they have been turned over.
However, obtaining maintenance records is just the first step in holding a trucking company accountable for its failure to properly maintain its vehicles. When you thing about it, if a trucking company has negligently refrained from maintaining upkeep on the vehicle, then it might also try to fake its maintenance records. While we don't mean to suggest that most trucking companies operate in such an underhanded way, we have encountered some who do. By the same token, we've learned a way to catch them. These maintenance records must keep track of the odometer readings on the truck on the given dates the vehicle was allegedly serviced. More importantly, these aren't the only records that keep track of the truck's odometer readings.
The FMCSA limits how far a given trucker can drive his 18-wheeler in a given day, with 11 hours being the maximum amount of time allowed behind the wheel and 14 hours allowed on the job total before a mandatory 10-hour rest period must go into effect. Also, for every eight hours driven, the truck driver must take at least a 30-minute break. In order to enforce these rules, the truck driver must keep a log of his rest stops. Sometimes, this record is kept in a handwritten log, but other times the record is kept with an Electronic On-Board Recorder that does the task automatically, keeping a record of the location, time, date, and odometer reading on the truck.
On more than one occasion, our firm has encountered a trucking company that has attempted to fake maintenance records but has not been clever enough to make sure the odometer readings on the fake record matched the real odometer readings on the same dates for their driver's EOBR readings. By reviewing both records, we've been able to prove the negligence of the trucking company, and its intentional deception in falsifying the records. With that kind of evidence in hand, the case is easily won.
Sometimes, an experienced attorney doesn't even need the maintenance logs to see that something is amiss. A case we recently settled for a substantial amount, our client suffering disfiguring, catastrophic injuries to his face and brain, in part, due to a poorly maintained vehicle. From simply viewing the accident scene photos, our truck accident attorneys were able to see that some of the truck's safety tape was obscured by layers of caked on mud. Had everything been in working order, it is quite possible that the accident would have been avoided and our client would not have been injured, or if he was, the extra braking time that unobstructed safety tape would have afforded him, would have made his injuries far less severe. When you get down to it, our attorneys have spent the better portion of a lifetime learning and practicing truck accident law. Like experts in any other field, their eyes simply see things the rest of us would miss.
Do you need a lawyer who understands the intricacies of mechanical failures in truck accidents?
If an 18-wheeler failed mechanically, leading to you suffering an injury or your loved one being killed, remember that trucking companies have an army of adjusters, human resource people, attorneys and experts in their side. Maybe, you need to enlist an army of your own? At Grossman Law Offices, we've been fighting the deceptions of negligent trucking companies in Texas and across the country for 25 years. To find out how we can help with your case, call us today for a free consultation at (855) 326-0000 (toll free).
Related pages outlining some other common causes of 18-wheeler accidents: