As leases end, jobs move, and graduates go on to college, we’ve probably all used a moving truck at least once in our lifetime. No doubt you’ve seen a Ryder or Budget truck pulling up to the house next door or sat next to a U-Haul in traffic. So imagine my surprise when I read the headline,“Jury Awards $84 Million to Man Injured by U-Haul Truck.” Talmadge Waldrip was injured while helping his daughter move when his rented U-Haul truck rolled over him and crushed his bladder and pelvis. Turns out the truck had a faulty emergency brake and worn-down gears that allowed it to roll backward, despite being in the ‘park’ position.
The case sheds light on the frightening reality that rented vehicles are not as safe as we assume. Take it from one family who rented a Ryder truckto move from Arizona to California. While on the road, they discovered the truck did not shift gears. After roadside assistance checked the vehicle, it was discovered that Ryder had wrongfully put formaldehyde where the transmission fluid should have been. Furthermore, an agent of Ryder admitted that the particular truck the family rented wasn’t even supposed to be on the road. I wonder how many rented vehicles drive next to me on the highway that shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Not too long ago the Los Angeles Times wrote a three-part series on U-Haul, examining the lack of equipment maintenance and the resulting rise in litigation. (See Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.) The Times points out that U-Haul, the nation’s largest company of do-it-yourself moving, maintains a fleet of more than 200,000 vehicles. An investigation found that many of the trucks are old and have mileage surpassing 100,000 miles. Employees admitted that basic safety checks are often omitted in order to get trucks quickly to the customer and back on the road. In addition, court records and interviews found that U-Haul mechanics have occasionally falsified repair records to list unperformed work.
But it’s not just the trucks that may cause injuries; the trailers are dangerous, as well. While trailers rarely require mechanical maintenance, they should come with warnings on usage. If not hauled by a proper vehicle, rented trailers can often cause the towing vehicle to overturn. The problem stems from the 1:1 weight ratio between the towing vehicle and trailer. For a safe tow, the ratio must be at least 2:1. The company doesn’t warn customers that SUVs do not satisfy this weight ratio because SUVs utilize only four wheels as opposed to the recommended six. In many lawsuits, the trailer began to sway side to side when going down a slight incline. Eventually, the swaying gains enough energy to overpower the SUV, causing the driver to lose control and rollover. Such was the case with then 19-year old Marissa Sternberg, who was relocating to Denver for vet school when her trailer led to her SUV rolling over five times. As a result, Marissa suffered traumatic brain injury and was left with no locomotive ability.
Although U-Haul has tightened its regulation of vehicle inspections, it is not an end all to the danger. There are several companies that offer similar service with comparable problems of maintenance and design defects. Rental vehicles (including vans, cars, RVs) and trailers travel far and wide, seeing many miles of states. But how often do they see the maintenance shop? Remember that the next time you think about renting a car to take a weekend trip with the family. Gas prices might not be the only thing that keeps you home.