A 23-year-old independent contractor truck driver set out on the road from a Palm Beach County mill on the U.S. 27 one recent foggy, dark morning. Within just a mile, the trailer of the large vehicle broke away from the tractor, unbeknownst to the driver, who continued on for a time.
Meanwhile, that tractor in the middle of the highway, in a blanket of thick fog just before the morning rush, became deadly. Approaching motorists didn’t have enough time to react when the impediment became visible.
A total of three vehicles slammed into the trailer, including another tractor-trailer. People were pinned in their vehicles. Some were already dead. Firefighters had to use cut occupants out. The roadway was pocked with divots that required new asphalt be laid before the road could re-open. In total four people were killed and one person was seriously injured. Another suffered minor scrapes and bruises. Of those killed, three were teenagers between the ages of 14 and 17. The fourth was the 39-year-old driver of that vehicle.
Our Palm Beach trucking accident attorneys recognize liability in this case may be complicated by the fact the driver was an independent contractor. Many transportation firms structure their operations this way for precisely this reason: to evade responsibility.
However, the vehicle itself would have to have had insurance, as would the driver. It’s also likely the owner of the trailer (if different from the tractor) would have some sort of liability policy, as would possibly the company whose goods were being transported.
Unfortunately, these matters are often anything but straightforward.
While the exact cause of the trailer’s detachment is underway by the Florida Highway Patrol, what we do know is there are many large trucks on the road that are unsafe. Negligent operation is one thing, but far too many trucks are overloaded or improperly loaded, improperly inspected or poorly maintained.
Last fall, the trucking industry observed “Brake Safety Week” and as part of that, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance conducted brake safety inspections on more than 13,300 trucks.
Those inspections resulted in 2,160 vehicles – or roughly 16 percent of the total – being taken out of service for safety issues.
Among those that raised red flags for inspectors:
- Loose or missing parts
- Hydraulic fluid or air leaks
- Worn pads, rotors, drums and linings
- Excessive pushrod stroke
- Malfunctioning warning lights for antilock brake systems
Of those commercial trucks pulled out of service, approximately 10.5 percent involved brakes that were out of adjustment. This in and of itself is concerning, but it’s especially troublesome when you consider that’s a 9.3 percent increase from what it was just a year ago. (By comparison, fleets in Canada had a 4.6 out-of-service rate for brake adjustment violations.)
Drivers are often responsible for pre- and post-trip inspections, but there are also usually fleet managers who are responsible for examining potential issues. There may also be a problem if firms aren’t taking enough care to properly train their technicians on how to spot, maintain and repair commercial truck braking systems and other problems.
If you have been injured in an accident, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7777 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.
Four Dead, Two Hurt After Trailer Detaches on U.S. 27 in Palm Beach County, March 17, 2015, By Adam Sacasa, Sun Sentinel
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