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Sudden Brake Failure

I’m Katelyn Holub, an attorney focusing on personal injury law in northwest Indiana.

Welcome to Personal Injury Primer, where we break down the law into simple terms, provide legal tips, and discuss personal injury law topics.

Today’s question comes from a listener who was rear-ended while waiting at a red light. He says the fellow who hit him is claiming that he is not responsible for the crash because his brakes suddenly failed. Is sudden brake failure a valid legal defense?

The general rule is that sudden unforeseeable brake failure can serve as a defense to negligence in the appropriate case.

But the burden will be on the party raising the defense to prove the defense.

Note, the brake failure must be both sudden and unforeseeable. What does that mean?

Well, it means that if the defendant driver noticed brake issues at the last stoplight a mile back from the crash scene, the defense fails. Why? Because a reasonable driver would pull over and stop driving. Continuing to drive with bad brakes is absolutely unreasonable.

When dealing with this defense, an inspection of the defendant’s car will be critical. Did the brakes really fail? If so, was the failure because of a brake component suddenly failing or because of a lack of maintenance?

In challenging this defense while representing a prior client, we investigated a defendant’s car’s maintenance history. The defense fell apart when we found that weeks earlier when the oil was changed in the car, the mechanic recommended brake work, which the defendant failed to authorize.

While the defense of sudden unforeseeable brake failure is a proper legal defense, modern vehicles have many safeguards that typically warn of impending brake failure. When a driver unreasonably ignores these warnings and continues to drive, the crash’s cause is driver negligence, pure and simple.

I hope you found this information helpful. If you are a victim of someone’s carelessness, substandard medical care, a product defect, work injury, or another personal injury, please call (219) 736-9700 with your questions. You can also learn more about us by visiting our website at DavidHolubLaw.com – while there, make sure you request a copy of our book “Fighting for Truth.”