Failure to Maintain 18-Wheeler Brakes

There is nothing more scary than the thought of a runaway truck with no brakes.  Yet many accidents happen ever year due to brake failure on 18-wheelers and other commercial motor vehicles.

Who is Liable When a Truck’s Brakes Fail?

There are several parties that may be liable when a trucks brakes fail. These include the following potential parties:

  1. The Truck Driver. The truck driver may be responsible if he/she failed to perform federally mandated pre-trip inspections of the truck, or took otherwise negligent actions involving the truck’s brakes.
  2. The Trucking Company. The responsible party may be the company that owns the truck if they failed to make reasonable inspections of the truck’s brakes or failed to perform reasonable maintenance on the truck. Ultimately, the trucking company is responsible for all conduct of their driver that is done while acting within the course and scope of his employment under the Doctrine of “Respondeat Superior”, which literally translates as “let the master answer.”
  3. The Truck Manufacturer. Finally, the responsible party may be the manufacturer of the truck and/or brake system if it can be shown that they produced and distributed a defective vehicle and/or defective brakes.
  4. The Brake Shop/Maintenance Company.  If an independant company was hire to repair, replace and/or maintain the braking system on the truck, that company may be held liable when the brakes fail due to negligence on their part.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has conducted numerous studies in the recent past to determine the critical causes for commercial truck accidents, finding that upwards of 25% of crashes were attributed to brake failure, brake degradation, or other brake-related issues. Thus, each of these possibilities should be considered in each case.

What are Common Causes of Truck Brake Failure?

In the event that brake failure or brake malfunction has played the critical role in an accident, it is important to conduct a proper investigation.  Some of the common issues contributing to brake failure include:

  1. overheating of the brakes;
  2. overly-worn tires;
  3. overly-worn brake pads/shoes;
  4. de-powering of the front brakes*, and;
  5. generally inadequate truck maintenance.

* De-powering of a truck’s front brakes is a practice amongst commercial truck owners and operators that can contribute to brake failure and the devastation that may result. It is believed that by de-powering the front brakes, the tires and brakes are saved from some wear and tear, which ultimately reduces replacement costs. The truck driver relies instead on the trailer brakes and downshifting to decelerate or stop the truck. However at high speeds and/or when the unexpected inevitably happens out on our roads, the truck may be unable to stop, swerve, or otherwise avoid an accident.

Are Brake Inspections Required on 18-Wheelers?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations require that commercial trucking companies submit to annual inspection of their commercial vehicles and brake systems by qualified inspectors, and must keep adequate records of such inspection reports. The FMCSA also requires that commercial truck drivers perform regular inspections of the truck’s tractor and trailer before and after every trip, which includes an inspection of the brake pads/shoes and other brake system components to ensure they are working properly and that there are no audible air leaks that might indicate an issue with the brake system. Failure to comply with these federal standards that are designed to avoid unnecessary maintenance issues and brake malfunction that can lead to trucking accidents is considered negligence.

Consult Simmons and Fletcher, P.C. Today

If you have been involved in an accident with a commercial truck that you suspect was the result of brake failure, you should take immediate steps to protect your legal rights. Please contact our truck accident lawyers for a free consultation, with no obligation, to determine whether a mechanical problem such as brake failure caused your injuries.


Paul Cannon