According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there were 3,900 fatalities and 104,000 individuals injured as a result of truck crashes in 2012. One common reason for catastrophic injuries in truck collisions is a driver's loss of control of an overweight or overloaded truck.
Both federal and state laws include weight restrictions for trucks. Some states permit trucks to exceed this weight, but only with a special permit. If the rules regarding weight and overloading are broken and result in a serious truck accident, the victim or victims can bring a lawsuit for damages.
Truck manufacturers assign a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR), and it is noted on a truck's plate. The GVWR is calculated by rating brakes, axels, frame, suspension, and powertrain. No truck may carry more weight than is permitted by the rating and should not exceed a GVWR of 80,000 pounds, with certain exceptions permitted for intrastate trucks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) maintains that if a truck does not have a plate, enforcement officers should assume a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds.
Truck drivers are expected to make regular use of weigh stations located along trucking routes in order to make sure they are not exceeding the truck's GVWR. Some drivers, however, do not actually lighten their load when the station indicates that the truck is overweight.
How Does an Overweight Truck Cause An Accident?
When a truck is overloaded or overweight, the truck's performance may suffer. For example, an overweight truck may go down an incline much faster than expected by the truck driver. It may require additional braking force to stop in time. Additionally, the cargo is more likely to shift, which can result in loads being distributed improperly.
Loads have to be properly distributed on the truck so that no single axle is overloaded, causing the truck to be off balance. Improper distribution is more likely to lead to multi-vehicle accidents or rollover accidents.
Any truck that is overloaded is likely to have cargo that is insufficiently secure, which can lead to items falling off the truck and causing a crash. Trucks that are not properly loaded or balanced may also exceed their weight limit, particularly while traveling on inclines, resulting in a tire blowout, a rollover, or a loss of steering control while changing lanes or making a sharp, sudden turn.
Holding Trucking Companies Responsible for Accidents
While a truck driver may be held liable for an overweight truck that causes an accident, the trucking company that owns the truck and employs the driver may also be held responsible under several different theories. Some trucking companies encourage the overloading of trucks in order to make a particular delivery time or increase profits.
Both truck drivers and trucking companies must keep scrupulous records of truck maintenance and inspection, as well as the weight of the loads. If you are the victim of a truck crash, it is important to consult an attorney immediately afterward. A trucking company may destroy or alter evidence, also called "spoliation," after a serious accident in order to avoid liability. The victim of a truck accident trying to hold a trucking company responsible can recover through a theory of indirect liability, such as respondeat superior or vicarious liability, or through a theory of direct liability, such as negligent hiring, negligent supervision or retention, or negligent entrustment.