Injured in a Trucking Cargo Accident? We Can Help.
Semi-trucks and tractor-trailers are big vehicles in their own right. They have massive engines, cabins large enough to sleep in, and the capability of hauling 20-foot cargo holds. All of those elements can compound into one deadly machine on the road if things get out of hand. Add the actual cargo loads these trucks haul to the equation, and the dangers of trucking cargo accidents only increases.
Imbalanced or poorly secured cargo is one of the leading contributors to commercial trucking accidents. These vehicles can be carrying any type of items imaginable, from construction equipment to retail equipment to produce to liquid or gas contents. And they’re usually carrying a lot of it.
It doesn’t necessarily matter the speed the truck is traveling or what type of contents they might be hauling—fast or slow, heavy or light, unexpected debris in the road can lead to dangerous accidents. That’s why truckers and trucking companies have strict cargo securement regulations they must follow. If they don’t, and it leads to an accident, victims may be able to file a lawsuit for damages suffered.
Common Causes of Trucking Cargo Accidents
Most often, a cargo spill occurs because of the way it was loaded onto the truck. In other cases, it may also spill because of the way the truck itself was driven or operated. Cargo in trucking cargo accidents can spill due to:
- Using a truck that isn’t the appropriate size or shape for the intended cargo.
- Improperly securing the cargo inside or onto the freight.
- Overloading the truck with more cargo than is advisable or permitted.
- Truck driver negligence, including speeding, taking turns too quickly, or driver distraction.
- Not adhering to proper driving in adverse weather conditions.
- Poor truck maintenance that leads to tire blowouts or engine failure.
- Sudden braking by the truck driver.
- Driver fatigue, especially when they aren’t following strict hourly driving regulations.
- Driving over potholes or other road defects that jostle the truck and its cargo.
Improper loading or securing of cargo is largely self-explanatory: if it’s not properly secured, it has more risk of coming loose and spilling out. When it comes to reckless driving or some type of operational failure, sudden changes in speed, force, or direction can shift secure cargo out of balance and cause it to come loose—even if it might have been secured properly to start. This is one of the reasons why semi-truck drivers are required to go through extensive training and testing before they’re allowed to drive such large vehicles or haul heavy shipments.
What Can Happen When Truck Cargo Spills
Whether it’s on the highway or on city streets, spilled cargo can lead to severe and even deadly accidents. Cargo that falls from a semi-truck can strike surrounding vehicles with force that causes damage to the vehicle, damage to the people inside it, and can start a chain of reactive driving like sudden braking or swerving in an attempt to avoid the strewn cargo. If the other vehicle is lucky enough to swerve around the loose contents of the truck, there’s still the danger of them ramming into another vehicle around them as they do so. In this way, spilled cargo may lead to multi-vehicle pileup car accidents.
Even cargo that doesn’t include large content or entirely solid debris can be dangerous. For example, a recent accident involved a semi-truck driving across the Midwest while transporting 1,000 pounds of furnace dust waste produced by a steel manufacturing company. The driver braked too quickly, causing the load to shift and spill out. This particular dust contained heavy metals like cadmium and lead, and drivers on the road who were exposed to it suffered severe eye, nose, throat, and skin irritation. The spill may not have led to a direct car crash scenario on the road, but it still caused physical harm that needed medical treatment.
When an actual crash does occur as a result from spilled cargo, it can cause any number of injuries you might expect to see during other types of car accidents. Impacts can lead to severe whiplash, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, lacerations, broken bones, internal bleeding, and death. All this because the truck driving down the road next to you didn’t pay careful enough attention to their cargo or the way they were transporting it.
The Rules and Regulations Semi-Trucks Must Follow
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has specific load requirements set forth for semi-trucks, as well as performance requirements that address things like acceleration, deceleration and driving direction. Cargo packed into or onto these trucks must be secured in a way so they can withstand a certain degree of movement, and all truck parts and systems must also be designed by manufacturers to meet their requirements.
The FMCSA’s cargo loading and driving requirements include:
- The proper use of tie-downs, straps, and latches to secure loads while in transit.
- A specific number of such tie-downs, straps, and latches is dependent upon the size of the load.
- Articles of cargo that are likely to roll or move must be restrained.
- Following careful load limit restrictions that are based on the weight of the cargo and size/type of truck.
- Rules for “special” types of cargo, such as logs/lumber, metal coils, intermodal containers, concrete piping, automobiles, equipment or machinery, and other large objects.
Aside from loading and securing cargo onto the truck in a way that follows these preset regulations, truckers and trucking companies must always adhere to proper driving on the road in order to further prevent their cargo from coming loose.
These regulations involve paying careful attention to how they drive through adverse weather conditions, through construction zones, and even under normal conditions where they are expected to follow speed limits and other road signage specifically instructing large trucks how to drive.
Truck drivers even have rules to follow about where they are allowed to park their trucks overnight or while otherwise taking federally mandated breaks between long bouts of driving. If truck drivers or their equipment are found to have broken rules and laws that lead to a dangerous cargo spill, they may be held liable for the damage caused.
Liability for Damages in a Trucking Cargo Accident
Though it may seem easiest to place blame for a truck cargo spill on the driver of the truck, it may not always be the trucker who is found truly liable for the resulting accident. Trucking companies include an array of resources and personnel that all play integral roles in a truck’s upkeep, loading, and operations. It could be found that someone else’s negligence at some other point in the process led to cargo spilling out onto the road.
Possible parties to examine when working out where to place liability for a trucking cargo accident include:
- The trucker, as they may have breached their duty of care as a driver on the road, but also as the only line of defense for making sure the cargo stays secure during the duration of their trip.
- The motor carrier or trucking company, who may have tried to overload their vehicle. These companies often attempt to do so in an effort to reduce operating costs.
- The cargo loading company, as many trucking companies use third parties to help load their vehicle. Such a contractor may fail to secure the cargo properly.
- The truck manufacturer or equipment manufacturer, if they are found to have developed faulty parts or truck equipment that somehow led to the cargo coming loose.
- The municipality is responsible for maintaining roads, if it’s found that poor road conditions led to the excessive jostling of truck cargo that caused it to come loose. In this case, a lawsuit would involve the government agency that failed to maintain the road.
Determining which party is responsible for spilled cargo begins with determining exactly how the cargo came loose and spilled out onto the road in the first place. Both processes involve intricate investigation that can be difficult to take on when you’re in the midst of trying to recover from the injuries you suffered in the accident. This is why it’s always helpful to have an experienced truck accident attorney who has experience with trucking cargo accidents on your side.