Maryland and Washington, D.C., Truck Accidents Resulting from Depowered Brakes
Compared to most traffic incidents that involve only passenger cars, or even large sport utility vehicles (SUVs), a beltway or interstate crash with a large commercial motor vehicle (CMV) can almost always be serious from the standpoint of causing severe bodily injuries or even resulting in the death of one or more victims. Many large CMVs -- such as 18-wheeler big rigs or "semis" as they are often referred -- are extremely heavy and take much longer to stop than a typical passenger vehicle.
Riding in a smaller vehicle that is hit by a tractor-trailer (or even a large box truck delivery vehicle) can lead to serious or critical injuries. As Maryland personal injury lawyers, the legal team at Lebowitz & Mzhen, LLC, knows very well the types of injuries that have been known to be caused by trucking-related highway and beltway collisions. Lacerations, bruises and simple bone fractures are the lesser of the more serious and sometimes life-threatening bodily injuries that victims can receive. Closed-head trauma, compound fractures, spinal damage and injuries to internal organs can put a person in the hospital for weeks or months.
Furthermore, victims of commercial trucking wrecks involving tanker trucks carrying gasoline, diesel fuel or other flammable liquids can be exposed to fire and flames propagating from the ruptured tank trailer. Burn injuries not only can lead to disfigurement and possibly a lifetime of pain and discomfort, but in some instances the victims may not be able to escape the extreme heat and perish in the conflagration before emergency rescue personnel can get close enough to help.
As Baltimore and Washington, D.C., automobile and commercial trucking accident attorneys, we are always shocked when we learn of the often self-serving and negligent actions that some truck drivers and trucking firms are guilty of. Ignoring a commercial vehicle's required maintenance or outright tampering with a tractor-trailer's critical safety-related systems in order to save a few dollars here and there is inexcusable, especially when such actions result in the injury or death of innocent victims.
One area of particular concern is the so-called "depowering" of a CMV's front brakes in the hopes of improving the truck's fuel mileage and boosting the company's bottom line. On average, brake failures account for about five percent of commercial trucking accidents every year across the country. While there can often be numerous signs of impending brake failure -- such as reduced braking performance, abnormal grinding sounds while stopping, or excessive drag from poorly adjusted or failing brakes -- some unscrupulous commercial trucking firms, as well as some truckers themselves, will ignore the warning signs and put off needed maintenance in the hope that the condition will not get worse for a little while longer.
Unfortunately for a percentage of motorists, the delay of required maintenance by a thoughtless driver or cargo transport company can mean the difference between life and death on some Maryland roadways. At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we make it a priority to help victims and their families by vigorously pursuing our investigation of any and all possible causes of a serious trucking accident. We know that making a thorough accounting of all the facts and delving into the maintenance records and other documentation associated with the upkeep and operation of a large commercial vehicle can go a long way toward recovering damages from the responsible party or parties.
When a large truck suffers from poor or inadequate braking performance there are several key factors that are usually suspect. These include 1) possible glazing of the vehicle's brake pads; 2) oil- or grease-soaked pad material; and 3) failure of the braking system's power assist function. Any one or a combination of these problems can cause an increase in the already long stopping distances that most large and heavy commercial vehicles exhibit. While these brake problems are serious and should not be ignored from a maintenance standpoint, they do not always constitute outright negligence; however, certain practices followed by some individuals and companies within the trucking industry are well known and can result in serious traffic accidents, along with a human toll.
Compared to the gradual reduction of braking performance due to normal wear and tear on brake system components, the conscious act of depowering of a vehicle's front brakes can lead to much more serious consequences, not only for the individuals who do so, but also for the potential victims of a crash that may be caused by their actions.
While it is illegal for anyone to depower the front brakes of a semi tractor-trailer, this questionable practice has a long history in this country. On its face, some people might assume that the amount of overall braking power lost by depowering just two of 18 or more wheels on a CMV would not pose a serious problem, but this is not the case. While most large commercial motor vehicles have the ability to come to a stop with some of the individual brakes not functioning well or at all, braking distances can extend much farther than normal.
Some commercial truck drivers believe they can get away with depowering their front brakes, relying solely on the braking power of the rear wheels combined with downshifting of the transmission to slow the vehicle. Although this strategy can indeed save wear and tear on the front brakes and perhaps reduce fuel consumption, if the unexpected happens at high speeds there is a very good chance that the driver might not be able to avoid hitting another vehicle. In fact, a trucker that attempts to stop a vehicle with the front brakes disconnected can end up in a jackknife situation, which can cause even more bodily injury and property damage.
At Lebowitz & Mzhen, we believe that truck drivers and the companies they work for should obey the law and follow the rules and regulations laid out by the state of Maryland and the federal government. There is no excuse for putting the public at risk, nor any justification for causing injury or death to any person in the pursuit of additional profits. Plain and simple, the depowering and/or the removal of the front brakes is a dangerous and reckless way to decrease operating costs.
If you or someone you love has been seriously hurt in a commercial truck wreck, we highly recommend that you contact a qualified trucking accident attorney. If a trucker or his employer is found to have violated federal or state rules by illegally tampering with the vehicle's brakes or other critical safety systems, there may be strong grounds for a personal claim.
Our legal team will work to build a strong case against the negligent parties by gathering all of the facts including any black box data, the trucker's past driving record, and police accident reports. To see if your case has potential for a monetary settlement, please contact our office for a free, no-obligation consultation. We can assist by helping you understand your rights to compensation under the law. Call us today at our toll-free number -- (800) 654-1949 -- or email either Jack Lebowitz or Vadim Mzhen to set up a face-to-face meeting.