How Negligent Truck Loading May Cause Accidents

Key Points:

  • The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration creates and enforces rules regarding the proper loading and securing of payloads on commercial trucks.
  • When items are improperly loaded or secured on a truck bed, it can lead to serious or even fatal truck accidents.
  • Retrieving evidence after a truck accident can be challenging and difficult to interpret, but an experienced lawyer can present the evidence needed to prove your case.

Truck Accident Negligence Can Take Place in the Loading Stages

It is estimated that a severe or fatal accident involving a truck happens approximately every 15 minutes. The brutal delivery schedules and long hours drivers must meet certainly contribute to the epidemic of commercial trucking accidents. However, sometimes the culprit in truck accidents is improper loading or securing of the payload, which can cause the entire vehicle to become unstable or items to dislodge.

Why Some Truck Accidents Start at the Loading Stage

The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) creates and enforces rules regarding the proper loading and securing of payloads on commercial trucks. These rules detail not only how items on the load must be placed in relation to each other but also the precise number of tie-downs that must be used to ensure safe transport. But unfortunately, those rules are often bypassed.

When the weight of a load is not balanced properly over the axels or the load is improperly secured, movements can cause the truck and its trailer to become unstable. This imbalance can cause this heavy vehicle to veer into other lanes, jack-knife, or turn over while negotiating turns.

Improperly strapped loads, whether pallets of bricks or entire bulldozers, can also fall off the truck, crashing into other vehicles. While most of these accidents can be avoided, extra care can mean additional time – and time is a luxury in the trucking industry.

Ultimately, the truck driver is responsible for the safe loading and securing of all cargo. There are even rules that tell drivers how often they must inspect the load and make necessary adjustments. These rules, however, don’t consider all the factors that can contribute to accidents.

Some trucking companies, including owner-operated units, don’t always monitor the equipment they use carefully enough. For example, using old tie-down straps or straps that are inadequate for the weight of the load, metal fatigue or corrosion at anchor points, or worn ratchet straps and other critical components can lead to equipment failure that can cause serious or fatal accidents.

While the truck driver is still responsible for the safety of the load, the employer or shipper could be held legally liable for damages caused by negligence, as well.

Objects Flying Off Improperly Loaded Trucks Often Result in Injuries

Improperly secured loads or those not adequately inspected can be extremely dangerous. For instance, imagine a truckload of crushed cars en route to the recycling facility where loose objects, like a side mirror, might easily dislodge. Or perhaps a loaded logging truck could have loose branches that might work their way free on a bumpy or curvy road. These objects could pose a serious threat if dislodged and hurdled toward adjacent traffic at highway speeds.

Depending upon the size of the flying object and the speed of impact, windshields can be shattered or breached, causing harm to the drivers and passengers of nearby vehicles.

Items Trucks Commonly Carry That Are Not Enclosed

Flatbed trucks often carry cargo that is too big or awkward to transport in a regular dry van trailer.

Here are several common examples of flatbed loads:

  • Heavy machinery, such as farm equipment and forklifts
  • Steel beams
  • Lumber or logs
  • Power poles
  • Bricks, blocks, and stone for building
  • Formed concrete items, such as septic tanks or culvert pipes
  • Long pipes
  • Engine parts for refineries, hydroelectric, or nuclear power generators
  • Wrapped, stackable products, like shingles or building joists
  • Recreational boats and yachts
  • Crushed cars
  • Shipping containers
  • Large cargo that needs to be loaded or unloaded with cranes or other specialized equipment

How Improper Loading Can Be Proven in a Legal Claim

If you plan to take legal action after a trucking accident involving unsecured cargo, you must be able to prove that the accident was, indeed, the result of improperly secured items. The evidence you will need to prove this includes:

  • Cargo loading records
  • Driving records of the trucker
  • Company safety records
  • Trucking company HR records detailing the driver’s training, experience, and qualification for flatbed operation
  • Logbooks that prove the driver neglected to check the cargo or was not otherwise in compliance with Department of Transportation requirements
  • Eyewitness statements that the driver was swerving or driving erratically before the accident

Your legal counsel will review evidence such as photos, videos, and the testimony of witnesses, as well as employer records, driver’s logs, and other relevant documentation. This will help them develop a strategy to prove that the accident was the product of negligence and upon whom the burden of compensation should fall.

How Liability Is Determined When Flying Objects from Trucks Cause an Accident

While it is the driver’s final responsibility to ensure the safety of the load, other parties may be found to have contributed to the accident.

Once gathered, the evidence may demonstrate that deadly mistakes were made by other parties, and in which case, those parties may be held liable. For example, if a loading company that is separate from the shipper or the transporter was responsible for loading the cargo, it’s possible some of the liability may fall upon that company. If the trucking company can be shown to have ignored necessary caution in hiring an inexperienced or poorly trained driver or failed to provide adequate safety equipment, like tie-downs, they may also be required to share the burden of liability.

Challenges with Accidents Involving Objects Flying Off Trucks

Many adverse conditions can impact an accident. Bad weather, slippery roads, or even heavy, stop-and-go traffic can cause strain on a load. Driving conditions may also cause objects to become loose or work themselves free. Of course, to escape blame, the parties will attempt to shift the responsibility for the accident whenever possible.

Securing the evidence at the accident scene can be extremely difficult because crash scenes are almost always cleared as soon as possible. Therefore, a good plaintiff’s lawyer will act immediately to preserve all evidence so that essential facts are not “lost” in the shuffle following an accident.

Always remember that the trucking company’s insurance provider employs specialized legal staff to avoid liability. They come to a legal challenge perfectly prepared to eliminate the threat the plaintiff represents. If you hope to prevail in such a case, you will need the best evidence, presented compellingly. At a minimum, consulting a truck accident specialist is an excellent first step to obtaining the compensation you deserve.

- D. Lo
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