Truck Accident Brake Failure Law Firm in Oklahoma City, OK

Semi-trucks and other large commercial vehicles are gigantic machines. They can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, or 40 tons, with a full load. Safely slowing and stopping a tractor-trailer requires powerful and complex braking mechanisms. 

Properly working brakes are critical to the safety of the truck driver and everyone else on the road. These brakes must be regularly inspected and maintained to ensure they work right.  Federal law requires this.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the agency that regulates the trucking industry. Every motor carrier and equipment provider must systematically inspect, repair, and maintain their fleet of vehicles, according to FMCSA Rule 396.3. They have a responsibility to make sure that all vehicles and accessories are safe to operate at all times.

Trucking companies do not always live up to their maintenance responsibilities. Keeping a truck off the road for maintenance prevents it from making deliveries and costs the company in servicing fees and downtime.

When a truck’s faulty brakes fail, severe or potentially fatal semi-truck accidents often result.

If you have been hurt in an accident due to defective truck brakes, call Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons today for a free consultation. We have extensive experience helping people who’ve been hurt in truck accidents seek justice and fair compensation. We’re ready to go to work for you.

Electrical professional working on connecting cables

Truck braking systems are incredibly complex, containing many components that must all be in good condition to be effective.

Regular service and inspections are required to verify that all parts are working correctly. For example, if the brakes are not properly adjusted, the brakes are worn, or if the air brake lines are not sealed or have a leak, a failure could occur.

Regular inspections can also catch problems like uneven wear. If some components are more worn than others, brakes on one side may fail and cause the truck to swerve out of control and cause a crash.

Another cause of brake failure in trucks is the illegal practice of brake disconnection or depowering. Sometimes, to save on maintenance costs, drivers turn off power to or disconnect the front brakes, and use the rear brakes or downshifting to stop the vehicle. This puts a more significant strain on rear brakes and can cause them to wear out more quickly.

Overloading the trailer can also cause the brakes to wear out and fail more quickly. The extra weight can put a strain on the brake components, which are only designed to handle specific loads. Combined with a lack of maintenance, brake failure is a real risk.

What Is Considered Brake Failure in an 18-Wheeler Accident?

Brakes can fail for a variety of reasons. Defective brakes or brake parts, or lack of maintenance is often the cause. Trucking companies are required by law to ensure all of their vehicles meet specific minimum standards.

Some of the specific mechanical problems that brakes can experience include:

  • Worn or defective discs or drums – Brake discs and drums wear out over time and become noisy when they go bad. If the rotors or drums are warped or worn, they may begin to squeak and squeal. In severe cases, they will make a scraping noise. Worn brake pads and brake shoes may also produce a squealing sound. Failing brakes may begin to vibrate when used. Inspections could uncover grooves or scoring on the rotor or drum, indicating a severe problem. Degraded brakes can mean increased stopping distances, which is a threat to safety in an accident situation
  • Worn or damaged brake lines – Some signs of this problem include leaking brake fluid, corrosion on the brake lines, or an illuminated brake warning light. Hydraulic brake lines are usually made of steel and are resistant to pressure and the environment, but exposure to the elements will eventually cause corrosion. This problem occurs more frequently in snowy weather conditions where the roads are salted. Tractor-trailers and other larger trucks are often equipped with air brakes instead of hydraulic brakes. Air brake systems can also suffer issues related to leaks and failing components.
  • Insufficient brake fluid – Brake fluid allows hydraulic brakes to work by transferring the force pressed on them to push the brake pads against the rotors, thereby slowing or stopping the vehicle. If there is not enough fluid, air can get into the line and will not provide the force necessary for the brakes to operate.
  • Brake fluid leak – There could be several reasons for a brake fluid leak, including a damaged master cylinder reservoir, a damaged caliper bleeder valve, a damaged brake line, or a failed piston seal. It is possible, however, that if the brake fluid is low, the problem is due to worn brake pads, which holds more fluid in the system.
  • Anti-lock brake system malfunction – The anti-lock braking system, or ABS, is a safety feature on modern vehicles, designed to prevent the wheels from locking up during heavy braking situations. This can keep the vehicle from skidding and losing control. The system has an ABS module and sensors at each wheel. The sensors detect the wheel’s speed and send a message to the ABS module to rapidly pump the brakes when it senses that the vehicle has lost traction. When the ABS fails, the brake pedal may require more effort to push or may become unresponsive. The brakes may lock up under usual driving conditions if the ABS module is trying to operate when it shouldn’t. The ABS light may come on, indicating a problem with the system.
  • Thinning brake pads or shoes – Brake pads and shoes are composed of friction material bonded to a steel plate. This device presses against the rotors or the drums when the brakes are depressed, slowing or stopping the wheels. This friction material eventually wears away, in which case the steel plate contacts the rotor or drum and can damage it. Worn brake pads or shoes can increase stopping distances or may even pull the vehicle to one side, causing an accident. Brake pads and shoes must not only be in good condition, but the wear on them must be even to prevent further problems.
  • Defective engine brakes – Also known as “jake brakes,” engine brakes use the engine to slow the entire rig. They are often used on downhill grades. Engine brakes work by shutting off engine cylinders to slow the truck. They are often discouraged or not allowed in populated areas because of the noise they produce. These brakes are meant to slow the vehicle, not to stop it.
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What Kind of Mechanical Errors Can Cause Semi-Truck Accidents?

Although brake failure is a leading cause of mechanical failure leading to truck accidents, it is not the only one. Other mechanical components may be defective or worn as well.

Worn or bald tires, or over- or under-inflated tires can lead to a blowout on the road. Faulty transmission systems, steering systems, broken hitches and coupling devices, and broken or defective headlights and signal lights could all lead to an accident.

This is why maintenance and inspections are so crucial on large commercial vehicles. The complexity of the mechanical components on heavy commercial trucks requires an experienced truck accident lawyer to investigate liability for a crash.

Who Is Liable for a Truck Accident Caused by Brake Failure?

Determining liability for a crash with an 18-wheeler or other big truck can be quite complicated. The various mechanical components may have different manufacturers, who may share some responsibility for defective parts. There has been national brake recalls for faulty components.

The trucking company, or sometimes maintenance subcontractors, are responsible for regular maintenance and ensuring all vehicles operate correctly. Carriers are required to keep maintenance records for any vehicle they own for longer than 30 days.

The driver may also be liable if they in some way contributed to the mechanical failure, by disconnecting the front brakes, for example. A driver may also have failed to perform a proper pre-trip inspection.

There may be a combination of causes for a particular truck accident involving driver error, environmental conditions, and mechanical failure.

How Common Are Accidents Caused by Mechanical Error?

Driver error is the most significant cause of trucking accidents. Mechanical failure is the number two reason.

The FMCSA’s Large Truck Crash Causation Study found that a problem with the vehicle itself causes 10 percent of all truck accidents. The FMCSA reported that brake failure was a factor in 27 percent of truck accidents caused by a mechanical problem.

Does Insurance Typically Cover Brake Failure?

The FMCSA requires all trucking carriers to be insured. Trucks that haul freight are required to carry between $750,000 and $5 million dollars of coverage, depending on the type of cargo.

Accident compensation claims can often reach into the millions of dollars. Trucking insurance companies are often reluctant to payout.

Several insurance companies may be involved in one accident. Depending on the insurance policy purchased, there may be gaps in coverage for specific situations or certain loads being carried.

The attorneys at Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons are prepared to negotiate with the insurance companies to seek a fair settlement for the injuries you’ve suffered, the financial losses you’ve incurred, and the damage to your vehicle. If the insurer attempts to deny, delay payment, or underpay your claim, we will not be afraid to take your case to court to pursue the full and fair amount you deserve.

Compensation check being handed to injured motorist for damages from a truck accident

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If you were hurt in an accident caused by defective brakes or the brake system on a commercial vehicle, do not hesitate to call Ryan Bisher Ryan & Simons right away. We can answer all your questions and help you understand your rights and legal options.

Our consultations are always 100% free and confidential. Reach out to us online or call us to speak with a truck accident lawyer today.