Trucks are extremely large and heavy vehicles. Everything needs to go right for them to safely reach their destination without injuring anyone else. Countless parts and systems must operate perfectly without failure. If any one of them malfunctions on the road, the truck driver may lose control of the vehicle. When that happens, everyone else on the road around the truck is at risk. Several potential defendants might have to pay for damages that trucks cause when they have a mechanical failure.
Trucking Companies Try to Economize on Maintenance Any Way That They Can
Unfortunately, trucking companies view maintenance as a cost center. Since the function does not produce revenue, they spend as little as they can on it, although properly maintaining trucks is the law.
These days, trucking companies are trying to operate as efficiently as possible. The truck driver shortage has caused these companies to pay much more for drivers and other personnel. These trucking companies look to save money any way that they can. In some cases, they take shortcuts with truck maintenance to keep their trucks on the road and the company profitable.
When Faced With a Choice, Companies Try to Keep Their Trucks on the Road
Trucking companies can either delay scheduled maintenance or ignore problems that they think are not pressing to keep the trucks running. Anytime that they must take a truck out of service, it is money that they cannot make and a potentially unhappy customer. Therefore, there is a temptation to either skimp on maintenance or ignore it altogether in the name of profits.
These days, trucks are running on increasingly sophisticated computers and systems. The net result is that it increases safety. The flip side is that trucks are entirely dependent on this technology. If it fails while the driver is on the road, it can cause dangerous situations. These complex computer systems require far more maintenance to keep operating. The function of a mechanic is becoming far more advanced, but trucking companies do not always invest the money in training and hiring.
Many Trucking Companies Outsource Maintenance Altogether
Some trucking companies are finding a new way to save on maintenance costs for their vehicles. Instead of keeping their in-house maintenance staff to service their trucks, they are increasingly beginning to outsource the function to companies dedicated to this function. This is a growing trend in the trucking industry as costs are rising for companies. Truckers want to focus on customers and driving, as opposed to dealing with repairing their vehicles.
Federal Law Requires Trucking Companies to Properly Maintain Trucks
Like everything else about the trucking industry, extensive federal regulations govern truck maintenance.
The Code of Federal Regulations require:
- Every motor carrier shall systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, or have another party systematically inspect, repair, and maintain, all motor vehicles subject to its control.
- Parts and accessories must be in safe and proper condition at all times.
Drivers must make a post-trip inspection at the end of every driving day and document the results. In addition, trucks must undergo a comprehensive inspection every 12 months.
Examples of Mechanical Problems that Can Cause Truck Accidents
Here are some of the possible mechanical failures that can cause a truck accident:
- Tire blowouts – this is perhaps the number-one mechanical cause of truck accidents. Truck drivers struggle to control their vehicle if a tire goes down when they are driving and often lose control. A simple inspection before the operator heads out onto the road can prevent many of these blowouts.
- Transmission failure – the transmission controls the distribution of power to the truck. Vehicles cannot accelerate without a working transmission. The driver will also not be able to control the truck. Transmissions are sophisticated systems that require continuous maintenance and inspection.
- Brake failures – Trucks depend on their brakes. Given the weight that they carry, these are critical features of a truck. Without them, the truck cannot stop and will rear-end vehicles in front. Not only do the brakes themselves need to be frequently inspected, but things like the brake pads and fluids also must be monitored. Loaded trucks need 40 percent more time and space to brake than passenger vehicles, so brakes need to be perfect.
- Steering and suspension – these systems allow the driver to control the vehicle. If they over or understeer, the driver can cause a rollover accident. In addition, precision steering allows the driver to avoid accidents.
- Other truck parts – even things that you think are minor are vitally important on a truck. For example, windshield wipers may not cost much, but truck drivers cannot see in bad weather without them. Broken headlights and taillights keep other drivers from spotting the truck and knowing where it may be heading. Small parts may cost a handful of dollars to replace, but their failure can cause millions of dollars in damages.
Truck Accidents That Can Happen Due to Mechanical Failures
Mechanical failures can cause many dangerous truck accidents.
These can include:
- Jackknife crashes – this is where the cab swings out from the trailer in the form of a pocket knife, and either the cab or the trailer can hit other cars on the road.
- Rollovers – the truck’s center of gravity throws off and the whole truck tips over.
- Unhinged trailers – the mechanical failure can cause the trailer to become decoupled from the cab. The trailer can hit another car or spill its cargo.
- Loss of control of the vehicle – the truck driver may lose control because the steering failed a tire blew out. They can hit cars around them or force them off the road or into other cars. This can also result in head-on or rear-end collisions.
A Lawyer Needs to Investigate the Cause of the Accident
It takes extensive investigation to learn that a truck accident happened because of a maintenance failure. It is not always apparent immediately after an accident. Your lawyer will need to get to work right away to help investigate the accident and determine its cause.
One of the first things that a lawyer might do is to request the maintenance records for the truck. They will act quickly to direct the trucking company to preserve this information. Even though there are federal recordkeeping requirements, these documents can disappear quickly if the trucking company realizes that they can be in serious legal trouble.
Getting Maintenance Records Is Just the Start of the Investigation
Once you have these records, you need an attorney who understands trucks and what can go wrong. First, the lawyer will review these records to see if the truck underwent proper maintenance. The attorney will know how to work with the relevant experts to reconstruct an accident and a truck’s mechanics. We know how to explain to juries what failed on the truck and why it was someone else’s fault.
Sometimes, trucking companies have systemic maintenance issues across their truck fleets, where cost-cutting is the most important factor. If the company consciously chose to skip maintenance instead of just making a mistake, it can find itself in even worse trouble. Your lawyer may get this evidence in the discovery process. If so, a jury may even award you punitive damages.
Possible Defendants in a Truck Maintenance Accident Lawsuit
You might sue many people or companies after a truck mechanical failure
Possible defendants include:
- The trucking company – they are legally responsible for the trucks that they own, and they must keep them in proper working condition. If any one of their employees made a mistake, the trucking company is legally responsible for paying damages.
- The truck driver – if the accident was the result of driver error, the operator can also be personally liable. In addition, some truck drivers own their trucks. These owner-operators are independent contractors who do work for trucking companies. When this happens, the driver is likely liable for a maintenance failure.
- The maintenance company – as we mentioned above, some trucking companies outsource truck maintenance to independent companies. While the trucking company is ultimately responsible for the truck’s condition, you can join the maintenance company in the lawsuit.
- The truck manufacturer – sometimes, the mechanical failure is the result of a defect in the truck itself. If that is the case, you can file a product liability lawsuit against the manufacturer for a design or manufacturing defect.
Insurance Companies Do Not Want to Fully Pay These Claims
While there are several possible defendants in a mechanical failure case, there is one constant. You are likely dealing with an insurance company that does not want to pay you what you legally deserve. Nearly all defendants (except perhaps the track manufacturer) will have an insurance policy in place. The insurance company will make you a very low settlement offer if they make you one at all. Your lawyer should know how to play hardball with a stubborn and cheap insurance company.
The second constant is that truck accidents due to mechanical failure will likely result in serious injuries. These accidents often occur at high speeds, and the vehicles are fully loaded up to 80,000 pounds. This is a very dangerous combination because the truck is up to 30 times heavier than your car. When you suffered injuries in a mechanical failure truck accident, you have every right to full compensation because it was someone else’s negligence that caused it.
However, the defendant and their insurance company are not going to simply write you a check. You will need to demonstrate why you deserve this money and firmly demand what you deserve. These companies have the insurance coverage in place to pay for your injuries. If the coverage is not enough, you can recover directly from the trucking company.
You Can Take Your Truck Accident Case to Court
Most maintenance failure cases will eventually settle without the need for a full trial. Once the investigation has established the cause of the accident, the trucking company and its insurance provider often realize their legal liability and the risks that they face. This does not keep them from playing games in the negotiation process. Even when they know that they are at fault, they will still try to save money.
After your lawyer has gathered the necessary evidence, you have legal options. You can try to work with the insurance company to obtain a settlement without the need for a trial, but this is not a requirement. You can always file a lawsuit in court, and you can do it right after the accident. The insurance company may come to you to talk settlement, not wanting the case to go to trial. You can continue to work on a settlement right up until the time when the jury issues a verdict. Even if you file a lawsuit, there is no requirement that you must take your case all the way to the jury.
What You Must Consider When Settling Your Truck Accident Case
The key is to have a lawyer that will fight for the most compensation possible. Truck accidents cause extensive injuries that can last for the rest of your life. You do not want to realize years into the future that you did not collect enough money when you had the chance.
When it comes to truck accidents, you need to factor in:
- Your ability to work in the future
- Inflation (particularly in the area of health care costs)
- Your future healthcare needs
- The assistance that you may need for daily life activities
You only have one chance to get a truck accident settlement when maintenance issues cause the crash. You need to maximize this opportunity.