Accidents Caused by Faulty Truck Brakes or Poor Brake System Maintenance

Taken altogether, traffic incidents that involve large commercial trucks and smaller passenger cars can often lead to serious bodily injury and possibly death. Even those collisions between SUVs and tractor-trailer rigs can threaten danger of severe injury, including compound fractures, head and neck trauma, internal bleeding and severed limbs. Especially at higher speeds, as found on the beltway or interstate, a wreck involving a large commercial motor vehicle (CMV) can be most serious.

From the standpoint of personal injury, trucking-related traffic collisions are hardly unique in the range of injuries that can be sustained by driver and passengers alike. In fact, depending on the circumstances, the potential for injury when a commercial truck collides with a passenger vehicle is often greater than when two like-sized passenger cars hit each other. In either case, if negligence can be shown, the opportunity for an injury claim to be lodged against the responsible party can also be rather high, indeed. As experienced trucking accident attorneys, the legal team at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, has the training and courtroom experience to help those victims of trucking-related accidents recover monetary damages.

Compared to the enormous size and weight of some commercial trucks -- such as tanker vehicles, automobile transporters, large dump trucks and 18-wheeled steel haulers -- the relatively small passenger vehicles that most people drive are no match for these huge CMVs in the case of a bad collision. When a family sedan, minivan, or sport utility vehicle is hit by a tractor-trailer or large box-style delivery vehicle, the odds that occupants in the passenger vehicle will end up in an emergency room can be quite high.

As Maryland automobile and trucking accident lawyers, our legal staff knows the kinds of injuries that can typically be expected in such severe car-truck wrecks. From mild bruising and minor cuts to serious lacerations, contusions and bone fractures, there is usually some amount of physical injury that comes from any car, truck or motorcycle accident. When a commercial vehicle is involved, sometimes life-threatening injuries can also be sustained, including spinal cord damage, brain trauma and injury to internal organs. Any one of these can send a victim to the hospital for weeks, maybe months, but complications from three or more serious injuries have been known to be fatal.

As Baltimore and Washington, D.C., auto, cycle and trucking accident lawyers, we are often shocked when we hear of a truck driver or commercial trucking firm who eschews public safety in favor of profits. While the often self-serving and negligent actions, such as skipping important maintenance procedures, can place others in jeopardy, it is interesting that many truckers fail to consider that their own lives might hang in the balance because a repair or maintenance item on their truck was put off for another time.

Ignoring critical maintenance items on a large commercial vehicle can end up costing a company a great deal more if an accident ensues as a result. When it comes to some of the most important safety systems on an 18-wheeler, the brakes must be considered the key to circumventing traffic-related accidents. Yet, despite the criticality of correctly functioning vehicle brakes, some truckers and their employers will actively avoid important maintenance schedules to save a little money down the road, regardless of the potential consequences for them and other unsuspecting motorists.

In addition to skipped brake system maintenance, there is the very serious issue of outright tampering with a tractor-trailer’s critical safety-related brake system components in an effort to increase fuel mileage and reduce operating costs. One practice in particular that has gained notoriety is the “depowering” of a CMV’s front brakes so as to improve fuel mileage. The problem with this approach, besides being against the law, is that it can reduce stopping distance and put others in danger.

On an annual basis, brake failures make up approximately five percent of all commercial trucking accidents. Although there are numerous signs of impending brake failure, such as increased stopping distance and abnormal grinding sounds while operating the brakes, some less-than-scrupulous trucking companies ignore the warning signs and hope that maintenance can be put off for a little longer. Of course, they do so at the peril of other innocent individuals as well as their own employees.

Some of the brake problems that can cause a crash or contribute greatly to the injuries sustained in a trucking-related collision include a number of conditions, some of which are listed below. Keep in mind that with proper maintenance and appropriate driving technique, the opportunity for brake problems or failure can be avoided, as would the potentially deadly results of a commercial vehicle crash on the beltway or interstate.

Glazed Brakes

Glazing of the brake pads due to excessive use and overheating is one of the more common brake problems. To the touch, brake pads seem very hard, but they are actually softer when compared to the steel brake rotors on which they act. Long periods of heavy braking or improper brake application in service can raise temperatures beyond what the pads were designed for. This excessive heat can cause the resins and binders that make up part of the pad to melt and break down.

Too much heat generated over and over can cause the brake pad material to literally crystalize on a molecular level. This action eventually makes the pads much harder, which lowers their coefficient of friction and makes them much less effective than a normal, undamaged pad. (The term “glazed” is used because the surface of the brake pad often appears smooth and shiny, much like a glazed ceramic tile.)

Once glazed, a pad cannot be repaired and must be replaced in order for the brakes to function as designed. This is a job for a competent certified commercial truck technician. Once the brake pads have been replaced, then it is the job of the trucker to follow proper “bedding-in” procedures, and to be certain that he does not overheat the vehicle’s brakes, which could again cause a glazed condition and greatly reduced stopping performance.

Grinding Noises

Noises that sound out of the ordinary can often be an indicator of future brake failure. The so-called grinding noise that can emanate from one or more wheels during braking can point up an excessive wear condition with the vehicle’s brake pads. Frequently, grinding sounds will come from brake pads that are worn well beyond their minimum service thickness. This can be a dangerous situation for both the truck driver and other motorists sharing the roadway with him.

Excessive Brake Drag

Failure of the emergency brake cable system can result in full or partial application of the truck’s brakes without the driver having his foot on the brake pedal itself. The resulting brake application can feel as if the trucker is actually applying the brakes, manifesting itself in an unusual amount of drag on the vehicle even during acceleration. This problem can arise when the emergency brake cables become “frozen” due to a buildup of rust inside the protective cable sheathing. The rust buildup causes the cables to remain taut even after the driver has released the emergency brake. Such a condition often requires immediate attention due to its extreme wearing effects and possible failure of all or part of the vehicle’s braking system.

Brake Pedal Pulsation

When the driver of a commercial motor vehicle senses a pulsating feeling when applying the brakes, the problem it reveals can sometimes be traced to a combination of excessive heat and/or wear in the brake system. Heat and wear can both cause the brake rotors or drums to warp, which in turn causes the pulsing effect during braking. This condition may call for an overhaul of one or more of the vehicle’s brake drums or rotors.

In terms of responsibility concerning brake failure on a commercial motor vehicle that is involved in a traffic accident, it is important for the victim’s attorney to evaluate all of the circumstances surrounding the crash, as well as the factors that may have contributed to the collision, in order to determine what party(s) should be liable for the injuries sustained or death caused by the crash. More than one party may be held responsible for trucking-related accidents, including the truck driver himself, the trucker’s employer, the firm that loaded the truck, the company or repair facility that serviced the vehicle’s brakes, and the braking equipment manufacturer.

Truck Drivers

As Maryland personal injury lawyers handling commercial trucking injury cases, Lebowitz & Mzhen understands that trucking companies, as well as their drivers, often try to cut costs and minimize expenses wherever possible. Unfortunately, in some cases truckers will, on their own, make a deliberate effort to depower their vehicle’s front brakes, which places the lion’s share of the braking effort on the trailer’s brakes or through the act of downshifting the transmission to slow the vehicle. In the case of depowering the brakes, the loss of some braking performance can mean the difference between life and death when an accident situation arises on the highway.

Maintenance Facilities

Maintenance shops can often be held liable for damages following a serious trucking-related traffic accident if it can be shown that the facility either did not properly perform maintenance on a commercial vehicle or there was a lack of correct service on parts or components whose failure caused the injury accident.

Brake Manufacturers

Original equipment parts manufacturers can be held liable for certain aspects of brake system design, which, if faulty, may have caused a brake failure and resulted in a serious injury accident. Any flaws must be investigated before the manufacturer can be held responsible for the all or part of the traffic accident involving the truck on which the parts were installed. Brake manufacturers, or even the vehicle manufacturer, could be held liable for an accident if it did not properly design the brake parts, components or system. Even if the parts were designed correctly, if there was a defect in the manufacturing process that caused the part to later fail in service, the manufacturer could also be responsible for injuries or deaths resulting from the crash.

If you or someone you love has been seriously hurt in a trucking-related accident caused by faulty brake system parts or other related mechanical problems, the experienced team at Lebowitz & Mzhen is prepared to help fight for your rights to compensation under the laws of Maryland. Our firm provides commercial trucking accident victims with a free, no-obligation consultation to help them understand their rights. Please feel free to call our toll-free number -- (800) 654-1949 -- to set up an initial consultation. Or, you may send an email to either Jack Lebowitz or Vadim Mzhen to arrange for a face-to-face meeting with one of our attorneys.