TT Talk - Chassis maintenance & repair in the USA
Container operations are often reliant on road carriage prior to and after carriage by sea. Careful attention to the associated road equipment is required to minimise the risks.
The United States remains one of the only jurisdictions where shipping lines have traditionally provided intermodal chassis for inland transportation. Whilst many lines have in recent years attempted to divest themselves of their chassis fleets, chassis usage has, inevitably, not decreased. One result of this shift in ownership of the chassis as an asset is that the contractual nexus has become increasingly complex.
Chassis maintenance and repair
Most third party chassis claims in the US arise due to an allegation of improper or insufficient maintenance and repair (M&R), particularly relating to chassis brakes or illumination of the chassis (lights and/or conspicuity tape). Claimant lawyers have become increasingly creative in the presentation of their claims, accentuated by the complexity of the contractual landscape.
Generally, when operating a chassis pool, it is the Pool Manager who assumes responsibility for maintaining the chassis, albeit that actual performance of repairs will often be subcontracted. One challenge this presents is that a Pool Manager may enlist the services of numerous vendors to inspect or perform work on chassis. In the event of a claim it can therefore prove difficult to isolate which vendor may have acted negligently if there is an allegation of M&R failure, since many different vendors may have worked on any given unit.
As a result, it is critical that the Motor Carrier performs a thorough pre-trip inspection of the chassis, as required by federal regulations. “It is critical that the Motor Carrier performs a thorough pre-trip inspection of the chassis, as required by federal regulations”
“It is critical that the Motor Carrier performs a thorough pre-trip inspection of the chassis, as required by federal regulations”
The pre-trip inspection is a critical line of defence and may be the final opportunity to identify a safety issue with the chassis before it enters the public highway. In the event of a defect, the Motor Carrier must alert the pool of the condition of the chassis and either wait for it to be repaired or request a different chassis. A defective chassis should not be knowingly used under any circumstances.
In the event of a claim, claimant lawyers are motivated to find evidence of improper M&R. The minimum insurance that is mandated under the UIIA (Uniform Intermodal Interchange and Facilities Access Agreement) for Motor Carriers is US$1million for bodily injury. In cases of serious injury, it is likely that lawyers will allege that there is something wrong with the chassis, which contributed to the accident. In the absence of liability against additional defendants, the claimant may not recover beyond the motor carrier’s insurance policy.
Inspections and repair controls
In common with many jurisdictions, the US Department of Transportation mandates that each intermodal chassis must undergo a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) annual inspection. At that time, each chassis should be thoroughly inspected by qualified individuals that will attest to the fitness and safety of the unit. However, it is crucial that the chassis is properly maintained in between annual inspections.
It will not always be straight-forward for Pool Managers to keep track of repairs that occur outside of the scope of the pool. For example, a Motor Carrier that has out-gated a chassis may have a chassis repaired while it is out on use, but may not notify the Pool Manager. Furthermore, many of these ’over the road‘ repairs are not performed to the highest standards or by qualified technicians. As a consequence, Pool Managers and others exposed as responsible should encourage Motor Carriers to report all repairs that are performed while the chassis is out during their usage period and insist that they only use reputable M&R vendors.
“Encourage Motor Carriers to report all repairs that are performed while the chassis is out during their usage period and insist that they only use reputable M&R vendors“
A major area of exposure concern are ‘wheel off’ cases – where a chassis is traveling on a public road and a wheel assembly becomes dislodged from the chassis. Dislodged wheels have caused property damage to third party vehicles and in some cases have been known to cause injuries to the occupants. In addition, there have been cases of third party vehicles striking other vehicles in an attempt to avoid a dislodged wheel. These incidents can have tragic consequences for other road users, and also result in significant financial exposure for the Motor Carrier and other involved parties. It is often difficult to evidence the cause of the dislodged wheel. Likely causes are over-torqueing of the wheel nuts, loose/missing wheel nuts, or a related M&R issue. It is challenging to defend an allegation of insufficient/improper M&R where wheel off incidents are concerned.
Clearly the pre-trip inspection of the chassis by the Motor Carrier is pivotal in ensuring that the equipment is in sound condition and in the event of an incident, will often assist in defending M&R claims. The UIIA Pre-Trip Inspection sets a standard for pre-trip inspections providing a 16 point reference guide as to the responsibilities and expected visual and audible checks to be undertaken by the Motor Carrier prior to use of the chassis. As an additional measure, wheel nut indicators could also be employed; these simple devices serve to provide an easily recognisable visual indicator.
We hope that you have found the above interesting. If you would like further information, or have any comments, please email us, or take this opportunity to forward to any colleagues who you may feel would be interested.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Risk Management Director, TT Club