How Hitch Failures Cause Serious Truck Accidents
Since many big rigs travel hundreds of miles in a single trip while towing thousands upon thousands of pounds of goods, it is no wonder that these vehicles need constant maintenance and repairs. While a truck’s tires, brakes, and engines are often the top priority, one other key part that should be inspected is the truck’s hitch. This unique part allows a truck to safely pull a fully-loaded trailer across the country, but when a hitch is damaged or faulty, it can also be the cause of serious accidents.
What Does a Truck’s Hitch Do?
A hitch is a mechanical device that is located on the back of a truck cab that allows it to pull a trailer. Most drivers have seen ball hitches on the back of pickup trucks, but semi-trucks utilize significantly stronger and more complex hitches to pull a trailer.
These hitches are often referred to as “fifth-wheel couplings” due to their circular shape. These couplings lie flat on the back of the semi-truck and feature a small, horse-shoe like impression and locking mechanism. This mechanism is designed to hold the trailer’s pin in place, which will keep the trailer attached to the cab while it moves.
In many cases, all a driver has to do to secure a trailer with a fifth-wheel coupling is to slowly back up the truck until the coupling and the trailer’s pin are aligned. This simple method of hauling trailers is generally very secure, although there are serious issues that can occur if the hitch is defective.
Why Do Hitches Break or Become Disconnected?
Hitches bear the full weight of a trailer and constantly grind up against the trailer pin when in motion. Over time, they may break down due to friction or a lack of lubrication, and they need to be repaired and replaced at regular intervals.
If the driver performs a dangerous maneuver or turn, the truck may jackknife, which will put further strain on the hitch and cause it to snap. Also, hitches are only meant to bear a certain amount of weight and, if the truck is overloaded regularly, they may break down at a faster rate. Alternatively, if the locking mechanism of the hitch is loose, it can cause the trailer to become disconnected when the truck is in motion. These runaway trailer incidents are absolutely devastating and can cause traumatic, often fatal, accidents.
Several parties are responsible for maintaining a semi-truck’s hitch. There is, obviously, the driver who is responsible for securing a truck’s hitch to the trailer and driving the vehicle safely. Failing to properly secure a hitch, driving erratically, and failing to schedule regular maintenance or repairs can be considered negligence and make a trucker liable for any injuries caused by a hitch failure.
However, not all trucks are owned and operated by drivers. Many are the property of large trucking companies that hire truckers to handle their fleet of vehicles. As such, these companies should hire certified technicians to inspect and repair these vehicles at regular intervals. Allowing a trucker to drive a vehicle that is in disrepair or that has a faulty hitch can make the company liable for an accident.
In turn, these repair shops and mechanics should also take extra care when inspecting a vehicle hitch. If they notice that the locking mechanism is weak or the hitch has become damaged, then they should repair or replace it before letting a driver get behind the wheel. Missing such an issue or failing to properly repair it can also make the repair shop liable if the defective hitch causes an accident.
Sadly, determining which party caused a trucking accident can be difficult. These cases often have multiple injured parties, thousands of dollars in property damage, and several special interest groups investigating them. It is extremely easy for an accident victim to feel lost and unsure about how to file a claim.
But if you work with an Orange County truck accident attorney at Allen, Flatt, Ballidis & Leslie, we can provide the legal guidance you need during this difficult time. We have represented numerous clients over more than 40 years and can thoroughly explain all of your options in a truck accident claim. We know how to launch an in-depth investigation into an accident and can utilize all of our expertise to determine who caused your injuries. From there, we will advocate for full and proper compensation on your behalf in a personal injury claim or lawsuit. To learn how we can represent you, call our office at (949) 752-7474 and schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.
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