Trucks play an essential role in the American economy. According to the American Trucking Associations, each year more than 2.5 million tractor-trailers – also known as “semis” or “18 wheelers” – haul nearly 10 billion tons of freight almost 100 billion miles, equivalent to four million trips around the earth. These numbers continue to grow annually.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the agency primarily responsible for ensuring that these modern behemoths operate safely. FMCSA also maintains statistics of the number, severity and causes of tractor-trailer accidents. Between 2001 and 2011, the agency reports that the number of fatal accidents involving large trucks (those weighing 10,000 pounds or more unloaded) has declined by nearly 25%.
However, serious and fatal large truck accidents can and do still happen, particularly in congested urban areas. A week rarely goes by without a report of a serious truck accident, often resulting in death or serious injuries, on the highways that crisscross Chicagoland. Victims often include drivers and passengers of the smaller vehicles with which big rigs share the roads. If you’re involved in a big rig accident, you need to act quickly in order to be sure your legal rights are protected. Consulting an experienced large truck accident lawyer is an important first step.
According to a recent three-year FMCSA study, human behavior – driver error, inattention, distraction and impairment – remains the leading cause of big rig accidents. However, the study also notes that large truck accidents typically are complex events, and that the human element is often only a primary cause in a chain of adverse events, some of which may occur long before the accident.
Determining who was at fault in a serious or fatal truck accident often involves extensive and painstaking investigation. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured or killed in a tractor-trailer accident, you need a team with both legal experience and the right technical knowledge.
A tractor-trailer consists of thousands of parts, carries loads of 50,000 pounds or more and operates for days at highway speeds in all weather conditions. It’s thus no surprise that mechanical failures were cited as contributing causes in fully one-third of the roughly 140,000 accidents in the FMCSA’s crash study.
Brake Malfunctions and Failures
Given the size, weight and speed of a fully loaded tractor-trailer, a properly functioning brake system is obviously of critical importance. At the same time, these systems are far more complex – and thus more prone to mechanical failure – than those on the typical family minivan.
Along with tire and wheel problems, brake failures and malfunctions remain the most significant mechanical causes of serious trucking accidents. Failures that may lead to legal liability can result from many causes, including:
Failure to replace worn or broken brake components
Use of defective parts or components
Inadequate inspection of components, including air hoses and couplings
Failure to Inspect, Maintain or Repair
Under Illinois law, truck owners and operators have a duty to ensure their vehicles are in proper operating condition. Regularly scheduled inspections are essential to identifying and correcting mechanical problems and defects before a semi heads out on its next trip. Regulations require that large truck vehicle maintenance procedures and repairs be double-checked and properly documented.
Determining legal responsibility for a missed inspection or an improperly completed repair can also be complicated. Depending upon the facts, the driver, mechanic and inspector and each of their respective employers may each be held responsible, along with the vehicle’s owner. An experienced Illinois truck accident attorney will know how to investigate and evaluate the facts of your case.
Law Office of Kenneth A. Fishman, P.C.