Colorado’s rugged landscape makes for beautiful scenery, especially when you take a drive down a mountain pass. Unfortunately, this landscape also creates incredibly dangerous conditions for tractor-trailers. In fact, hundreds of articles detail the locations and conditions of what they call Colorado’s most dangerous roads. Some of these roadways include Pikes Peak Highway, Loveland Pass, and Trail Ridge Road.
When making its way down a steep hill, a truck’s brakes can fail, or its trailer can become detached, creating a wildly dangerous situation where an 80,000-pound truck is hurtling down a mountain, gaining speed, and unable to stop or slow down.
Not only is this dangerous for truck drivers, it’s dangerous for any smaller vehicles below. Our Colorado Springs truck accident lawyers have seen the aftermath, and untangling liability after a runaway truck wreck can be complicated.
What Are Runaway Trucks and How Do They Happen?
A tractor-trailer is called a “runaway truck” when it is descending a slope, often in a Colorado mountain pass, and the driver loses control of the truck as it gains speed. For big rigs, the driver must be prepared for an upcoming descent, and should reach the descent speed before the truck crests the pass or reaches the beginning of the slope. The truck should also be put in first gear. This slow speed, plus the resistance of the transmission in first gear, prevents the truck from accelerating too quickly downhill. The brakes are then used as an additional prevention tool, especially around the curves.
When a driver fails to use these precautions, the brakes or other equipment can fail; if drivers make an error while descending, a truck can quickly turn into a runaway. In May 2018, a truck driver died after his runaway truck plunged more than 125 feet off of Wolf Creek Pass on U.S. Highway 160 in Colorado. The driver’s excessive speed caused his truck’s brakes to fail.
Runaway truck ramps exist on the shoulders of many dangerous highways to help truck drivers. These are gravel-covered off-ramps that have a rise or hill, using friction and the effect of the incline to stop runaway vehicles. By 1990, there were reportedly 170 runaway ramps in 27 (mostly Western) states (Car and Driver).
It’s up to Colorado State to determine where these ramps are constructed, based on parameters such as the runaway truck accident rate, the length and grade of the slope, traffic volume and percent of heavy-truck traffic, and conditions at the end of the slope, such as a sharp bend or a building. Most of these runaway truck ramps, if properly built, are successful in slowing down trucks and preventing crashes. However, not every mountain pass has a runaway truck ramp, and not all drivers are successful in getting to them before it’s too late.
Liability after a Runaway Truck Hits Your Vehicle
In Park City, Utah, last fall, a runaway dump truck overturned, closing the area to traffic for hours. The truck lost its brakes on a downhill stretch and crashed into a pickup truck. Both vehicle drivers had to be hospitalized (Park Record).
This is an example of how a runaway truck can damage more than just itself and its driver. Depending on the circumstances, multiple factors could contribute to a runaway truck crash. For example, a truck driver driving too fast and malfunctioning brakes could both contribute to a crash. The trucker, the trucking company, the trucking company’s insurance, and the manufacturer of the truck or a part of the truck are all potentially liable parties in the aftermath of a crash.
Typically, an employer is responsible for the wrongful acts committed by its employees, as long as the acts were unintentional and were committed within the scope of employment. A truck driver making a delivery is working within the scope of his employment, but a truck driver driving to a social event after work may not be driving within the scope of his employment.
However, when employees work as independent contractors, their employers are generally not liable. This is because an employer usually has less control over the workflow of an independent contractor, who may use his own equipment and manage maintenance or repair of this equipment.
Additionally, an employer may not be held liable for a crash that was committed by its employee intentionally. For example, a truck driver who intentionally rear-ends a car due to road rage would be held liable, but his company probably wouldn’t be—unless he showed a pattern of aggressive behavior prior to the incident and the company kept him working.
If a faulty truck part, such as the brakes, causes or contributes to a crash, the manufacturer may be held liable under the legal theory of product liability. To prove product liability, you must demonstrate the product had an unreasonably dangerous defect, the defect was a direct cause of the crash/injury, and the product wasn’t substantially changed from the condition in which it was originally manufactured and sold. This is a tall order for laymen, but lawyers often work with engineering and manufacturing experts to uncover the truth.
Call an Experienced Colorado Springs Truck Lawyer
A knowledgeable attorney can do the research to determine why a runaway truck crash occurred, and who is responsible. The Bussey Law Firm, P.C., is here to hold responsible parties accountable for their part in an accident. If you’d like to discuss your situation with one of our Colorado Springs personal injury attorneys, give us a call at (719) 401-0585.