According to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), brake failures are the leading cause of large truck accidents. Over a 33-month study period, the FMCSA recorded approximately 141,000 fatal and injury-involved large truck accidents in the United States. Of these accidents, 41,000 involved brake problems.
This means that nearly one in three large truck accidents in the United States is fully or partially attributable to a brake failure.
This is an alarming statistic for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that brake failures are entirely avoidable. If brake manufacturers adequately tested their products before delivering them to truck manufacturers, if trucking companies adequately maintained their trucks, and if repair shops and dealerships performed appropriate service during every brake job, then brake failures would not happen.
With all of this in mind, if you have been seriously injured or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed in a commercial truck accident, it is important that you speak with an attorney about your legal rights.
What Are Your Legal Rights After a Truck Accident Caused by a Brake Failure?
After a commercial truck accident, determining your legal rights starts with determining the cause of the accident. If the cause of the accident was a brake failure, then you can seek full compensation for all of your financial and non-financial losses.
You can pursue a claim just as you would if the truck driver was negligent in causing the accident. If truck driver negligence was also a factor (i.e., if the truck driver was speeding or distracted), you can pursue a claim against the truck driver as well.
Who Is Liable If a Commercial Truck’s Brakes Fail?
Once it is determined that a brake failure caused (or contributed to) an accident, then the next question that must be answered is: Who is liable? There are a few possibilities:
- The Brake or Truck Manufacturer – If the truck’s brakes were defective, then the brake or truck manufacturer may be liable. Defective product cases are generally governed by the law of “strict liability,” which means that proof of negligence is not required.
- The Trucking Company or Owner–Operator – If the truck’s brakes failed because they had not been properly maintained, then the trucking company or owner-operator may be liable for failing to perform necessary maintenance.
- A Dealership or Repair Shop – If the trucking company or owner-operator took the truck in for service and the dealership or repair shop performed a faulty brake job, then the dealership or repair shop may be legally responsible for the collision.
Who Is Liable If Multiple Factors Combine to Cause a Truck Accident?
In many cases, multiple factors will combine to cause a truck accident. If a brake failure was just one factor involved in a truck accident, then California’s “modified joint and several liability law” will apply.
Under this law, a company can be held fully liable for an accident victim’s economic damages even if that company is only partially responsible for a truck accident. However, the company will only be liable for the portion of the victim’s non-economic damages that are attributable to its percentage of fault.
So, for example, if defective brakes are deemed to be 75% to blame in a truck accident and the victim suffers $100,000 in economic losses and $400,000 in non-economic losses, then the brake manufacturer:
- Will be fully liable for the victim’s $100,000 in economic damages
- Will be liable for $300,000 (75%) of the victim’s non-economic damages
What about the remaining $100,000 in non-economic damages? This amount would have to be recovered from the other party that was 25% responsible for causing the accident.
How Do You Prove That a Brake Failure Caused a Truck Accident?
In order to prove that a brake failure caused a truck accident, it will be necessary to conduct a thorough investigation. This includes not only investigating the scene of the accident (i.e., to examine skid marks), but examining the truck’s brakes and obtaining documentary evidence (i.e., maintenance records) as well.
Your truck accident lawyer will perform a thorough investigation to build your case. In order to collect critical evidence before it disappears, it is important to hire a truck accident attorney as soon as possible.
What If an Investigation Reveals That a Brake Failure Wasn’t a Factor?
While it may seem like a truck’s brakes must have failed based on the circumstances involved in an accident, it is very possible that other factors were to blame instead. For example, it could very well be the case that the truck driver was distracted or fatigued and simply did not press the brake pedal until it was too late. Heavy cargo, worn tire treads, and various other factors could all be to blame as well.
Regardless of the specific issue involved, in the vast majority of truck accident cases, someone other than the victim is to blame. When your attorney investigates the accident, he or she will gather the evidence required to determine who is liable and pursue just compensation on your behalf.
Were you or a member of your family involved in a truck accident? Do you suspect that a brake failure may be to blame?
To speak with an attorney about your legal rights in confidence, call (661) 333-3333 today for a free consultation. The Law Offices of Mickey Fine serves clients in Bakersfield, and other areas of California.