Who is Liable for Truck Accidents Caused by Tow Hitch Defects?
There are many hazards and dangers when you are on the roads in Philadelphia and in Pennsylvania. Inattentive drivers, intoxicated drivers, and poorly maintained roads all lead to accidents every day. However, one of those accidents that is not often talked about is when a trailer breaks loose from its vehicle and subsequently causes an accident. These accidents are more common than you might expect and have lead to thousands of injuries across the country and in Philadelphia. Our firm is a proven resource for victims of these all-too-common wrecks. Our defective trailer hitch lawyers have the knowledge and resources to handle your catastrophic injury or wrongful death claim.
How Common are Accidents from Defective Trailers?
There have been multiple studies over the years that have all highlighted that runaway trailer accidents are common events on the road. A study conducted by a national insurance company determined that 70% of trailer owners were not aware of the appropriate way to tow their cargo. The study also determined that people who rented trailers were often given inadequate instruction about hooking up a trailer to a hitch, or how to properly and safely use towing equipment.
In another study, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that over 53,000 serious trailer accidents involving passenger vehicles towing trailers occurred in 2007 resulting in over 450 deaths and 21,000 injuries. When a trailer unhitches from its towing vehicle, a 3,000+ pound missile is launched, speeding out of control, and catastrophic injury or wrongful death are likely consequences. In an industry that is already highly unregulated, practically no regulations exist for trailers that are less than 3,000 lbs, including homemade trailer hitches.
Common Reasons Trailers Break Loose
Trailers can come unhitched from their tow for several different reasons. Sometimes, there is a defect in one of the components of the hitch or mount, or corrosion, cracks, and rust have weakened and broken parts. There have been numerous complaints about vehicles in which weld sites of trailer hitches or at pin boxes have cracked or weakened, making towing extremely dangerous. Many other times, a trailer is not properly secured to a hitch with, for example, the coupling not fitting properly over the ball, safety chains not being used, the load not being distributed evenly on the trailer, towing over the maximum allowable load for the trailer and hitch equipment used, and incorrect fasteners or hardware being used.
According to the National Highway Safety Administration NHTSA, there are an estimated 50,000 towing accidents every year. Trailers become unhitched from various types of vehicles including semi-trucks, pickup trucks, SUVS, moving vans. Some of the most common reasons for these accidents include.
- Speeding – drivers often forget that they should generally drive slower when they are hauling another vehicle or device behind them.
- Steep declines – steep declines pose a particular problem when a person is towing another object behind their vehicle.
- Sudden turns – sudden turns can cause the weight of the vehicle to shift and may result in a trailer becoming detached from the hauling vehicle.
- Overloaded trailers – Often trailers are loaded beyond their weight capacity in an attempt by drivers from having to make multiple trips. However, this poses a problem for trailers as this can cause them to become unhinged from their towing vehicle.
- Rusted components – A rusted component may mean that a vehicle that is being hauled will become detached because the metal components have been weakened.
- Manufacturing or design defect – in order to attach an object to another vehicle there needs to be an apparatus, which is responsible for holding the vehicles together. When this object is not designed properly, then it can cause the vehicle to come unhinged and cause a runaway trailer.
Other reasons may include:
- Operator behavior (driving too fast, or recklessly)
- Mechanical failure
- Failure to post proper warnings
- Uninspected damage
- Improper repairs
- Metallurgical or component failures
- Lack of proper maintenance
- Loose cables
- Lack of or improper safety chains
- Improper operation
- Improper training of operator
- Rusted belts
- Improper belting security
- Lack of safety harness
- Failure of safety locks
- Poor lighting
- Electrical shorts
- Switch failures
- Abrupt stop/start of trailer
- Violation of applicable state codes concerning weight requirements
When a trailer is being attached to another vehicle drivers, operators, and those who are loading the vehicle should be very cautious how they load the vehicle and to make sure that the trailer is properly attached.
Who is Liable for a Runaway Trailer Accident?
When there has been a runaway trailer accident determining who is responsible for the accident can often be confusing and there may be additional parties than just those on the road with you.
- The vehicle operator – Driver errors are a leading cause of most runaway trailer accidents and drivers are the most obvious person for filing a case against. However, the vehicle operate is not always solely liable, and it is important to examine who else may have been involved in the accident.
- The Hitch Manufactures – when a product is improperly designed or has a flaw, then this may lead to an accident. In the case of a runaway trailer the hitch, or the device that connects the vehicle to the trailer, is often examined to determine if it malfunctioned or if it was properly installed.
- The Trucking Company or Cargo Loaders – Often drivers, particularly commercial drivers do not have much authority or even interaction with the materials that are in their truck. Often times, a vehicle that is being towed is too heavy for the hitch or the attached vehicle. The excess weight can cause a trailer to sway, or place unacceptable stress on a trailer hitch and connecting components.
It is important that after you have been in an accident and before you consider filing suit that you determine who all the liable parties may be. Working with an experienced attorney who is familiar with all different types of parties that may be involved can help you recover for your injuries much faster.
Uncovering Manufacturing Defects or Operator Negligence
Determining what caused a trailer detachment and crash or similar accident and who is liable for the damage done to you and your family will likely require a versatile, well-connected personal injury attorney. The work of our own in-house investigator and an international network of experts may be instrumental in successfully building your case based on:
- A manufacturing defect in the hitch, couplers or trailer itself — justifying a products liability claim against the manufacturer or product designer
- The car or truck driver’s lack of knowledge or diligence in inspecting and hooking up the trailer, including checks for corrosion and broken or worn components
- A trailer load exceeding the safe limits of the equipment
- Other forms of negligence related to driver behavior, roadway conditions or other factors
Our experience at The Reiff Law Firm extends to vehicle rollovers, hay ride accidents, and many other high-stakes legal claims arising from trailer defects and improper use and maintenance of trailers. Our strengths in accident investigation and willingness to take on complex litigation are critical to our success in this important area of the law.
Our Philadelphia Defective Trailer Car Accident Lawyers Can Help
Founding partner Jeffrey M. Reiff and our entire legal team are highly conscious of the potential causes of trailer hitch defects and failures, disconnections and malfunctions, and other factors that may have caused your car, motorcycle or other vehicle crash involving a runaway or defective trailer. Please contact us today for an informative free case evaluation.
We take a specific interest in exposing dangers posed by the lack of standards for trailer hitch manufacture and the lack of enforcement of existing laws governing trailer use. If you have suffered a serious injury in any type of trailer-related vehicle crash, please call or e-mail us.
If we are able to pursue your valid claim, you will owe no attorney fees unless our efforts deliver monetary compensation for you.