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Commercial Truck Accidents, Negligent Vehicle Maintenance & Risks

The McClellan Law Firm

Commercial truck accidents have many potential causes – from the negligence of truck drivers to the oversights, regulatory violations, and failures of trucking companies that employ them.

Though things like driver distraction, fatigue, and negligent hiring / retention practices are some of the more well-known causes of trucking accidents, few people realize the devastating potential of inadequate vehicle maintenance.

Why Truck Maintenance Matters

Commercial trucks are some of the largest, heaviest, and least-responsive motor vehicles on our roads, and they pose innumerable risks for causing harm. Because they’re such a significant threat to public safety, 18-wheelers and other commercial trucks are subject to stringent regulatory oversight, and specific regulations which dictate how trucking operators must mitigate risks and uphold the duty of care they owe other motorists and pedestrians.

While state laws and federal trucking regulations enforced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) cover everything from C-class licensing procedures to Hours-of-Service rules and cargo securement requirements, they also devote considerable focus to the proper and periodic maintenance of vehicles.

An improperly maintained passenger vehicle, as anyone can tell you, creates risks for preventable accidents and mishaps. An improperly maintained commercial truck – which can weigh upwards of 80,000 pounds – is a ticking time bomb for tragedy.

Trucking Vehicle Maintenance: Regulations & Risks

1. Inspection / Maintenance Logs

Among their many obligations, trucking operators must keep accurate vehicle maintenance logs, inspection records, and information about any repairs they (or a third party maintenance service provider with whom they contract) make to their fleet.

These requirements have a purpose: they ensure commercial vehicles are in sound working order, and provide trucking companies with an opportunity to spot and rectify potential hazards before they cause accidents, injuries, or death. They can also be referred to when questions arise after accidents occur.

2. Brakes & Brake Failure

Ensuring braking systems are in proper working order is critical to avoiding accidents, reducing force of impact and severity of wrecks and injuries, and limiting potential for severe and fatal injuries.

Short-cuts and shortsightedness are simply unacceptable when it comes to ensuring brakes are in good condition. When brakes degrade, go unrepaired, or are insufficiently maintained in any way, risks increase substantially for:

  • “Soft brakes” and reduced stopping time;
  • Reduced collision-avoidance capability;
  • Rear-end accidents and multi-vehicle pile-ups;
  • Skidding, jackknifing, underrides, and rollovers
  • Total brake failure, runaway trucks / high-speed accidents

3. Tires & Risk Reduction

Tires are essential to safe vehicle operation, and all the more so on vehicles that have a lot of them. Capable of supporting immense loads and many miles of travel, commercial truck tires need to be thoroughly inspected, repaired, and replaced on a regular basis. The FMCSA has specific rules for truck tire maintenance.

In any truck, problematic tire maintenance can spell disaster. Common issues include:

  • Tire blowouts, severe accidents
  • Improper air pressure / compromised stability and weight distribution
  • Tread wear, sidewall damage, and leaks
  • Failures to comply with regulations regarding tread depth, tire size and wear matching
  • Violations involving paired radial and bias tires on same axle
  • Violations involving the use of retreaded tires for certain carriers

4. Trailer / Cargo Issues

Commercial trucks are designed to transport all types of commodities, and are subject to different rules and regulations based on their design, purpose, and the cargo they carry. Generally, trucks must be adequately inspected and maintained so as to ensure trailers, hitches, and securement devices critical to cargo safety work as intended.

Failures to meet these requirements, and any negligent act that compromises trailer or cargo securement, can elevate crash and injury risks due to:

  • Trailer decoupling
  • Shifting cargo and compromised stability
  • Fallen cargo and roadway hazards
  • Toxic or flammable substances

5. Other Vehicle Maintenance Issues

Trucks are more than brakes, tires, and trailers, which is why trucking operators are ultimately responsible for ensuring the overall condition of their fleet. While there are many vehicle maintenance-related regulations, and many risks associated with violating them, other common issues include:

  • Non-working lights or turn signals
  • Missing, obscured, or broken reflectors, signage, and warnings
  • Broken or inaccurate dashboard controls / instrument panels
  • Broken or missing mirrors / backup video systems
  • Improperly installed or broken underride guards
  • Steering misalignment / mechanism failure
  • Suspension problems and failure
  • Oil, transmission, and fuel line problems
  • Worn timing belts and engine parts

Negligent Maintenance, Truck Accidents & How Our Firm Can Help

Trucking companies are corporations with interests centered squarely on their bottom line. Whether it’s the cost of maintenance, losses associated with taking rigs off the road for needed repairs, or a negligent prioritization of profits over people, trucking companies may choose to circumvent the law, and fail to uphold their duty for taking reasonable steps that ensures public safety.

The same holds true for third parties which may be potentially liable for trucking accidents, or share blame with truckers and trucking companies. That’s why our firm explores all potential causes and possible at-fault parties – from trucking maintenance crews and distributors / cargo loaders to manufacturers of defective products and vehicle parts.

As a civil trial practice led by one of the nation’s top plaintiffs’ attorneys, The McClellan Law Firm knows corporate wrongdoing can have devastating consequences, and has helped clients fight back against powerful defendants and insurance carriers that focus their efforts on minimizing payouts rather than fairly compensation those they harm.

If you have a potential trucking accident case in San Diego or Southern California you wish to discuss, contact us to speak with an attorney.