Commercial trucks and semi trucks drive many thousands of miles every year, so it is not surprising that their brakes wear down quickly. Stopping the force of a tractor-trailer that weighs up to 80,000 pounds can be difficult even when the brakes are new, the weather is good and the truck driver is fully alert. It can be impossible to stop a tractor-trailer where the brakes are worn and old. A driver's failure to inspect tractor-trailers every day they are driven can lead to a fatal truck accident.
The distance needed to stop a truck in time to keep a crash from happening increases the heavier the truck is and the faster it is going. Brakes that are poorly maintained or inspected only increase the amount of time that is needed for a truck driver to stop. A rear-end accident involving a truck striking a car can have devastating consequences, sometimes pushing the struck car into another car in front of it. Multiple victims may be injured.
Liability When Air Brakes Fail
Trucks are equipped with air brakes that use compressed air to stop the vehicle. Air brakes are complex systems with multiple parts. An air compressor pumps air into reservoirs. The compressor, which can be air cooled by the engine cooling system, is connected by gears to the engine and may have its own oil supply or may rely on engine oil.
An air compressor governor pumps air in the air storage tanks. If pressure rises to a certain level, the governor stops the air from pumping until the tank pressure falls to a certain level. The number of air storage tanks varies depending on the type of truck.
When properly maintained and used, air brakes safely stop trucks. In fact, total brake failure is very rare on trucks because there are so many fail-safe mechanisms in place to protect against this risk. There is an emergency braking system so that in the event of failure of the regular braking system, the trucker is still able to stop though it may take a longer distance for the truck to stop completely.
However, because air brakes on a truck are so complex and trucks are driven for so many miles, there are lots of opportunities for something to go wrong with truck brakes if they are not properly inspected. The air brakes may be old, not properly adjusted or they may have a mechanical malfunction.
If a truck driver operating a heavy tractor-trailer rides the brakes going downhill for a long period, or stops suddenly at high speeds, the truck's brakes may overheat. Overloaded or improperly loaded trucks, can also result in overheating, which in turn can lead to malfunctioning.
When brakes are not properly adjusted, the axles will have more braking force than the trailer, which can result in "jackknifing." This is where a trailer swings out, sometimes at a 90 degree angle, hitting multiple cars.
If you are a passenger car driver who is hurt in a jackknifing accident there may be multiple severely injured victims. Multiple claims will be competing for the maximum amount of recovery from the driver's insurance policy. This means that it will be particularly important to pursue all theories of recovery. You can sue the driver for negligence, but depending upon the circumstances, you may also want to sue the driver's employer under theories of vicarious liability, respondeat superior, negligent hiring or supervision, and negligent entrustment.