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Brake Failure and Bad Brakes

Brake failure has been the main cause of thousands of commercial truckaccidents across the country. If it is found that the accident was caused by poor truck maintenance, your lawyer must determine who is held liable. Liability can be placed on the trucking company, the truck’s owner/operator, the inspection station, the manufacturer of a truck or truck part (if they produced, sold or distributed a defective product), the truck’s mechanic, or the driver of the truck, if the court involved in the case determines that any of them has been found to be at fault for the accident. Commercial truck accidents are responsible for 5,000 deaths and over 130,000 injuries on the roads of America each year. A passenger vehicle will sustain the majority of the damage in a truck brake failure accident. Due to their large mass, and weight which is often 40 times heavier then passenger vehicles, it is perfectly understandable when the breaks fail on a commercial truck it becomes a devastating deadly weapon as it barrels towards another vehicle.

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a commercial truck brake failure accident, contact the law offices of Gordon Elias & Seely, L.L.P. to learn more about your legal options. Call TOLL FREE at 800 - 773 - 6770 to speak with an experienced truck accident attorney.

Brake Failure Causes

The brakes of a commercial truck are one of its most important functions. All heavy trucks use air brakes where high pressure air applies the brakes. If you listen for the sound when a large rig stops at an intersection, you'll hear a "hiss" when the brakes are released, not when they are applied. LArge ricommercial trucks' air brake systems are complicated, hard to maintain and less effective than the hydraulic brake systems used on lighter passenger vehicles. The system includes an engine-mounted air compressor, numerous lines and valves, several tanks, and the actuating units at each wheel. Most importantly and in almost universal use is the "S" cam drum brakes that have adjustment requirements that are critical for optimal brake operation. Big trucks don't stop well under any circumstances taking almost twice as long to stop as lighter vehicles to come to a halt. Stopping when they are fully loaded because of their mass and weight, becomes even more difficult. Out of adjustment brake, because the brake units aren't working, or aren't working as hard as they should be, won't stop a large rig as quickly as properly adjusted brakes. Unfortunately, tractor-trailer brakes are often under-maintained and overused.

Although federal trucking laws dictate that truck drivers should know about the condition of their brakes at all times, in the endless rush to make a delivery, comprehensive brake maintenance is frequently ignored. Conscientious truck drivers and trucking companies regularly inspected and maintained their trucks' brakes to ensure they are in optimal working condition. They recognize if truck brakes fail or lock up, a serious truck accident can occur. In some mountainous areas there are "Brake check" areas specifically for truckers. These are places set aside for vehicles to stop and check the adjustment and operation of their brakes before starting down the mountain. In other places you may see Runaway Truck Ramps also called truck escape ramps or TERs, on highways that traverse steep downgrades. Large rig trucks and even cars use the Runaway Truck Ramps to help slow down, or decelerate their vehicle and bring it to a stop in case of break failure. For more than 40 years, runaway truck ramps have been constructed in areas where frequent accidents involving big trucks have occurred.

Brake failure can be caused by a variety of reasons including:

  • Old brakes
  • Overly thin brake pads
  • Brakes suffused with oil/greases
  • Cost cutting measures
  • Negligence by contractors during brake maintenance
  • Driver negligence (the driver is required by law to perform pre-trip brake checks)


When it comes to commercial truck accidents caused by brake failure, the driver of the truck, the trucking company, the contractor, and/or the technician working on the truck can all be held liable for the accident. All of these parties have a duty of reasonable care towards other motorists on the roadway to provide a safe truck. If this duty of reasonable care is breached then any of these parties can be held liable for the accident.

Brake Laws by State

Because of their size, capacities, and operational characteristics of large commercial trucks (often referred to as big rigs) a number of state and federal regulations have been enacted for heavy commercial trucks. In most states, trucks above a certain weight are required to obtain a special kind of registration known as an "operating authority." Although most US states require periodic vehicle inspections done by independent mechanics, some states allow in-house inspectors. These inspections of large rig trucks involve brakes, steering gear, suspension, tires, and a number of other mechanical evaluations not normally done on a regular basis with passenger vehicles. However, in-house inspectors sometimes will compromise their job leading to problems that could have catastrophic consequences. When a truck accident occurs due to a mechanical failure, the annual vehicle inspection, or occasionally, the lack thereof, is thoroughly investigated to help determine who is liabile for the accident.

Brake laws by state are as follows:

  • Alabama: required over 3,000lbs GVW (Gross Vehical Weight)
  • Alaska: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Arizona: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Arkansas: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • California: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Colorado: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Connecticut: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Delaware: all vehicles
  • District of Columbia: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Florida: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Georgia: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Hawaii: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Idaho: Trailers must have independent brakingsystem
  • Illinois: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Indiana: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Iowa: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Kansas: every vehicle
  • Kentucky: no specific laws
  • Louisiana: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Maine: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Maryland: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Massachusetts: trailers over 10,000lbs
  • Michigan: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Minnesota: trailers over 3,000lbs
  • Mississippi: 2,000lbs GVW
  • Missouri: no trailer requirements
  • Montana: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Nebraska: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Nevada: required over 1,500lbs GVW
  • New Hampshire: every trailer
  • New Jersey: every trailer
  • New Mexico: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • New York: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • North Carolina: 4,000lbs GVW
  • North Dakota: every trailer
  • Ohio: required if trailer has empty weight of2,000lbs GVW
  • Oklahoma: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Oregon: not required
  • Pennsylvania: every trailer must be equippedwith adequate brakes
  • Rhode Island: required over 4,000lbs GVW
  • South Carolina: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • South Dakota: required on all trailers
  • Tennessee: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Texas: required over 4,500lbs GVW
  • Utah: every vehicle
  • Vermont: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Virginia: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Washington: required on all vehicles
  • West Virginia: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Wisconsin: required over 3,000lbs GVW
  • Wyoming: every vehicle

Injuries and Compensation for Truck Accidents Involving Break Failure

Injuries from truck accidents can includeconcussions, broken bones, fractures, severed limbs, burns, comas, head trauma, and other injuries. Victims can be compensated for pain and suffering, loss ofwages, medical bills, hospital bills, legal fees, court fees, funeral costs and much more.

Obtaining Legal Help

If you or a loved one has been seriously injured in a commercial truck brake failure accident, immediately contact one of our truck accident attorneys at Gordon Elias & Seely, L.L.P. for expert legal advice.

The content of this website is provided for informational purposes only, and does not constitute legal advice. If you need help with a Truck Accident claim, consult an experienced trucking accident attorney from the law offices of Gordon Elias & Seely, L.L.P. by calling TOLL FREE: 800 - 773 - 6770 OR by filling out the Free Case Evaluation Form on this page.
Gordon, Elias & Seely, L.L.P.
1811 Bering Drive, Suite 300     Houston, TX 77057     Toll Free: 1-800-773-6770     Fax: 713-668-1980