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Brake Failure: A Leading Cause of Commercial Truck Accidents

When a semi-truck’s brakes fail, the results can be catastrophic

When a semi-truck’s brakes fail, the consequences can be catastrophic. Tractor-trailer accidents rank among the most devastating crashes on our roads, largely due to the immense size and weight of 18-wheelers. Like other vehicles, heavy trucks are susceptible to brake failures, posing a significant risk to everyone on the road. The aftermath of such failures can lead to severe and even fatal injuries.

Determining fault in truck accidents involving semi-truck brake failure is complex. Various factors must be carefully investigated and examined to establish true responsibility, complicating matters for victims and their families seeking rightful compensation.

At The Law Offices of John S. Williams, LLC in New Orleans, we are skilled at establishing fault in complex claims involving trucking accidents and advocating for the compensation victims deserve. Whether negotiating with insurance companies or presenting cases in court, our firm is committed to achieving justice for those affected by these tragic accidents.

Why semi-truck brakes fail

Having reliable and maintained brakes on a commercial truck is crucial for road safety, especially given the significant stopping distances involved. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS),loaded tractor-trailers require 20% to 40% more distance to stop than cars. Below is a detailed list of common reasons why brake failures occur in these large vehicles, each contributing to the increased risk of accidents on the road.

  • Defective brakes: When the brakes on a tractor-trailer are flawed, or malfunction, the vehicle's ability to stop properly is severely compromised, leading to dangerous situations on the road.
  • Brake imbalance: An uneven distribution of braking force among the wheels can cause brake failures. If certain brakes receive less pressure than others, it can result in unpredictable braking behavior, increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Faulty suspension: Problems with a truck's suspension system can place additional strain on the brakes, potentially leading to failures or reduced braking efficiency. Even if the brakes are properly maintained, they can still be affected if the suspension is not.
  • Brake corrosion: Corrosion or rust on the brakes or their housings can degrade performance over time. This deterioration can happen easily as it often progresses unnoticed until it is too late.
  • Air brake system failures: For trucks equipped with air brakes, leaks or blockages in the airlines can lead to insufficient air pressure, resulting in brake failure.
  • Overheating brakes: Continuous heavy braking, especially on long downhill stretches, can cause the brakes to overheat. Overheated brakes can fade or fail.
  • Improper brake adjustments: Incorrectly adjusted brakes can lead to uneven wear and reduced braking efficiency.
  • Broken brake drums: Many tractor-trailers use drum brakes, and damage or fractures to these components can critically impair the vehicle's ability to stop, resulting in accidents.
  • Poor truck maintenance: Regular maintenance is crucial for ensuring the safe operation of a truck's braking system. Neglecting this maintenance can allow small issues to escalate into significant failures, endangering everyone on the road.
  • Overloaded trucks: Exceeding the recommended weight limits places excessive strain on a truck's braking system, diminishing its effectiveness and increasing the likelihood of brake failure.
  • Manufacturing defects: Flaws introduced during the production of truck brakes can lead to inherent weaknesses, which may not become apparent until the brakes fail under stress, causing accidents.
  • Inadequate brake fluid: Low levels of brake fluid can reduce hydraulic pressure in the braking system, impairing its ability to function properly and increasing the risk of brake failure.

Understanding the different types of brake systems on tractor-trailers

Tractor-trailers and other large commercial trucks rely on various braking systems to ensure their safe operation on the road. These systems are designed to handle the immense weight and demanding conditions associated with heavy-duty trucking. Common types of brakes found in semi-trucks and 18-wheelers include:

  • Air Brakes: Air brakes are the most common braking system used in heavy-duty trucks, including tractor-trailers. They operate using compressed air, which is stored in tanks and delivered to the brakes through a series of valves and pipes. When the driver presses the brake pedal, air pressure is applied to the brake pads or shoes, creating the friction needed to slow down or stop the vehicle.
  • Hydraulic Brakes: Hydraulic brakes are commonly found in lighter trucks and passenger vehicles, though some medium-duty trucks also use them. This system uses brake fluid to transfer force from the brake pedal to the brake components at each wheel. When the truck driver presses the brake pedal, the fluid is forced through brake lines to the brake calipers or wheel cylinders, which then apply pressure to the brake pads. Hydraulic brakes provide strong and consistent braking force but are typically less effective for heavy vehicles than air brakes.
  • Drum Brakes: In drum brakes, the brake shoes press against the inside of a rotating drum attached to the wheel to create friction and slow down the vehicle. Many trucks, especially older models or certain types of trailers, use drum brakes due to their durability and effectiveness in handling heavy loads.

Who can be liable for a truck accident involving brake failure?

Determining liability in a truck accident involving brake failure can be tricky, as multiple parties may be responsible for ensuring the safety and functionality of the braking system. Depending on the circumstances of the crash, the following parties could potentially be held liable:

Truck Driver

The truck driver can be held liable if it is determined that their actions or negligence contributed to the brake failure or accident. This could include:

  • Neglecting pre-trip Inspections: Drivers are required to perform pre-trip inspections to ensure all systems, including brakes, are functioning properly. Failure to identify and report brake issues can lead to liability.
  • Improper driving practices: Using improper braking techniques, such as excessive use of brakes on steep descents, can lead to brake overheating and failure.
  • Ignoring warning signs: If drivers continue operating the vehicle despite knowing about existing brake problems, they could be held responsible for any resulting accidents.

Trucking Company

Trucking companies can also be liable for brake failures due to their responsibility for the vehicle and its operations. This could involve:

  • Inadequate maintenance: If the company fails to implement a proper maintenance schedule or cuts corners to save costs, brake failures can result.
  • Poor training: If truck drivers are not adequately trained in vehicle inspection, brake use, and emergency procedures, the company could be held accountable for resulting accidents.
  • Overloading trucks: If the company pressures drivers to overload trucks beyond their braking capacity, this can contribute to brake failure and accidents.

Brake Manufacturers

Brake manufacturers can be held liable if the brake components they produce are found to be defective or flawed. This liability might arise from:

  • Design defects: Faulty designs that lead to premature wear or failure under normal operating conditions.
  • Manufacturing errors: Mistakes during the production process that introduce weaknesses or defects in the brake components.
  • Failure to warn: Not providing adequate warnings or instructions regarding the proper use and maintenance of the brakes.

Maintenance/Repair Parties

Maintenance and repair shops can be liable if their work on the truck’s brake system is substandard or negligent. This includes:

  • Improper repairs: Using incorrect parts, improper installation, or failing to fix known issues adequately.
  • Negligent maintenance: Failing to conduct thorough inspections or overlooking critical brake system problems during routine maintenance.
  • Inadequate documentation: Not keeping accurate records of maintenance and repairs can obscure the history of the vehicle’s brake issues and accountability.

How a truck accident attorney can help you pursue a claim or lawsuit

Truck accidents involving brake failure often quickly become complicated legal cases. With numerous potential factors at play and multiple parties possibly at fault, these cases are often complex. Insurance companies are well aware of this complexity and often exploit it to their advantage. Instead of fairly compensating victims, many insurers, trucking companies, and their legal representatives use tactics to reduce or deny injury claims and avoid responsibility.

At the Law Offices of John S. Williams, LLC, we understand the tactics that the other side uses in the aftermath of a serious commercial truck accident. We know what evidence to look for, what questions to ask, and how to build a strong, effective legal case for the maximum financial compensation our clients deserve.

Contact us today and schedule a free consultation. We are here to listen, provide guidance, and fight for your rights every step of the way. Don't face this challenging time alone—reach out to us and let us help you pursue the justice and financial compensation you deserve.

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