Do Hitch Failures Increase the Risk of a Serious Truck Accident?March 27, 2023
Truck accidents are among some of the most destructive accidents and cause massive property damage and severe injuries and fatalities. Many of these accidents are preventable if truck drivers keep their attention focused on the road, avoid driving while drowsy, and make safety a top priority at all times. Another important part of the job is to ensure that the truck is inspected and maintained on a regular basis.
While the truck’s tires, brakes, engine, and lights are often a priority for inspections and truck maintenance, trailer hitches may be overlooked, despite the fact they allow the truck cab to pull a fully-loaded trailer. When a hitch is damaged or not working properly, it can cause a serious truck accident.
What Does a Truck Hitch Do?
Located on the back of the trailer’s cab, a hitch is a mechanical device that allows the truck cab to pull a trailer. While passenger vehicles either have or can be equipped with a ball hitch, commercial trucks use hitches known as “fifth-wheel couplings,” which are considerably stronger and more complex. They contain a locking mechanism that holds the trailer’s pin in place and provides a secure method of hauling the trailer. When you consider the fact that a fully-loaded commercial truck can weigh up to 80,000 pounds, it is crucial that the hitch is working properly.
What Can Cause a Hitch to Malfunction?
When a commercial truck is fully loaded, this puts an immense amount of pressure on the pin in the trailer. This is particularly true if the truck is involved in a jackknife accident, which imposes more pressure on the hitch than it is meant to withstand. Excessive friction and a lack of lubrication over time can cause the pin to break down. In addition, truck hitches are designed to bear a maximum amount of weight, so if the truck is overloaded, the hitch is more likely to break down faster. The following are additional examples of some of the most common causes of hitch failures:
- Hitch defects during the manufacturing or design process.
- Faulty hitch mechanism.
- Defective trailer tongue or coupler.
- Brake malfunction.
- Rusted component.
- Lack of proper hitch maintenance.
- Reckless driving, including speeding.
- Negligent installation.
- Failure to use safety chains properly.
- Failure to use the recommended safety chain that connect the trailer to the hauling vehicle.
- Hazardous road conditions.
How Does a Hitch Become Disconnected?
It is extremely important that the locking mechanism is working properly and the hitch is safely secured. If the locking mechanism loosens, the trailer can become disconnected from the cab, causing a runaway trailer incident. If this occurs while the truck is traveling on a busy highway, it can cause a catastrophic accident involving multiple vehicles and severe injuries or fatalities. Oftentimes, runaway trailers are the result of improper installation, driver inexperience, or defective design. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), statistics found that, in one year, approximately 21,000 injuries and 450 fatalities were either directly or indirectly caused by truck accidents, including accidents involving hitch failures.
Who Is Liable for a Truck Accident Caused by a Truck Hitch Failure?
There are a number of parties that may be liable for a truck accident that is caused by a hitch that malfunctioned, became disconnected, or was not properly maintained. One or more of the following parties may be liable based on the cause of the accident:
- The truck driver may be held liable if they failed to properly secure the hitch, disobeyed the rules of the road, or were driving in an unsafe or reckless manner.
- The truck company may be liable for a truck accident if it did not conduct regular inspection or maintenance or ensure the necessary repairs were made in a timely manner.
- If the repair shop or mechanic responsible for inspecting, repairing, or replacing a damaged or broken hitch failed to do so, the shop owner may be held liable for the accident.
- The company responsible for loading the cargo may be liable if the truck was overloaded or the cargo was not properly or securely loaded.
- If the hitch was defective, the hitch’s manufacturer may be held liable for the accident.
It can be difficult to determine which party or parties are responsible for causing a hitch failure truck accident. In addition, it is common for truck accident survivors to feel overwhelmed about what to do next, how to file a personal injury claim, and how to pursue financial damages.
Truck companies often have a team of highly paid lawyers who will resort to a range of legal tactics to avoid having to pay a costly settlement. Having a trusted and experienced truck accident lawyer on your side will ensure that your legal rights are protected.
What Types of Injuries Do Hitch Failure Accidents Cause?
Any time a massive commercial truck is involved in a traffic accident, it is likely there will be serious injuries. Unfortunately, it is usually the occupants of the passenger vehicle involved in the accident that suffer the most catastrophic injuries. The following are examples of common truck accident injuries that are caused by hitch failures:
- Cuts and lacerations.
- Broken bones.
- Spinal cord injuries.
- Organ damage.
- Back and neck injuries.
- Amputation and disfigurement.
- Traumatic brain injuries.
Seeking Compensation for a Hitch-Related Truck Accident
If you suffer a severe injury in a truck accident that is caused by a faulty hitch, the expenses associated with the accident will start to accumulate quickly, particularly if your injury requires surgery, extensive medical care, and physical therapy. If you (your lawyer) are able to prove the truck driver, the trucking company, and/or another party responsible for the maintenance of the truck is negligent in some way, you may be able to pursue financial damages. Possible damages include:
- All medical expenses associated with the accident, including hospitalization, surgeries, and follow-up appointments.
- Future medical expenses for any surgeries, treatment, and medical procedures that you may need.
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation.
- Lost wages if your injury prevents you from being able to return to work for an extended period of time.
- Pain and suffering.
- Wrongful death benefits, including funeral and burial costs, lost wages, and hospital bills.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Filing a Truck Accident Claim?
In Maryland, you must file a claim within three years from the date of the accident in order to be eligible for financial damages. If you miss this deadline, your claim will likely be denied, and you will be unable to collect damages. A dedicated truck accident lawyer will help you navigate the claims process, ensure that your claim is filed before the deadline, and address any questions and concerns.
Baltimore Truck Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Clients Injured in Accidents Caused by Truck Hitch Failures
If you or a loved one suffered an injury in a truck accident that was caused by a hitch failure, you are urged to contact one of our Baltimore truck accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.
We have offices in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, Lanham, and Owings Mills, allowing us to represent clients in Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Harford County, Howard County, Montgomery County, Maryland’s Western Counties, Prince George’s County, Queen Anne’s County, Southern Maryland, and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of Catonsville, Essex, Halethorpe, Middle River, Rosedale, Gwynn Oak, Brooklandville, Dundalk, Pikesville, Nottingham, Windsor Mill, Lutherville, Timonium, Sparrows Point, Ridgewood, and Elkridge.