In addition to overloading trucks, companies and drivers in the trucking industry may load cargo improperly. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and state agencies provide rules for loading cargo. Some of these rules apply to specific types of cargo, such as logs, metal coils, paper rolls, concrete pipes, and motor vehicles. Other rules apply more generally. For example, the FMCSA imposes requirements for tie-downs based on the size and weight of the truck, and it requires truck drivers and trucking companies to load cargo in a way that keeps it stable while a truck is accelerating, turning, or reversing.
At various locations on interstate highways, weigh station officers check loads on trucks for compliance with regulations. Violations can lead to steep fines. Truck drivers may try to avoid weigh stations, though, and most unsecured loads go undetected unless an accident occurs.
Regulations governing cargo loading on trucks are designed to prevent situations in which cargo falls off a truck onto a highway or another road. This can cause an accident if cargo strikes another vehicle directly, or if it lands on the road and creates an unexpected hazard. As drivers swerve to avoid the fallen cargo, they may collide with other vehicles or objects. Hundreds of people are killed on US roads each year because of debris from unsecured loads, and thousands more suffer catastrophic injuries.
Legal Claims Based on Falling Cargo From Trucks
Even though a truck driver may not load the cargo on their truck, they must inspect the load to make sure that it is safe before going out on the road. If they fail to conduct an inspection or turn a blind eye to a problem, they can be held liable by a victim who is injured in an ensuing accident. These claims are generally based on negligence, which requires proving that a defendant did not use reasonable care under the circumstances. Violating regulations for securing cargo likely indicates a failure to use reasonable care. In some states, this may even trigger an automatic finding that the defendant acted unreasonably. A victim then must prove that the lack of reasonable care caused their injuries.
In addition to the truck driver, a victim may have a claim against a cargo loader that improperly loaded or secured the cargo. They also can sue the trucking company that employed the driver under a theory of indirect or direct liability, or both. Indirect liability applies when a trucker failed to use reasonable care while they were on the job, regardless of whether the trucking company acted appropriately. Direct liability means that the trucking company contributed to the accident, perhaps by hiring an unqualified driver or overlooking safety violations by a driver of which it knew or should have known.
Statutes of Limitations
A victim must bring a truck accident case within the statute of limitations. This defines the time window for filing a personal injury lawsuit. Failing to bring a case within the statute of limitations may result in the loss of the right to compensation, even if a defendant was clearly at fault.
Damages for Injuries From Falling Cargo
If they can prove liability, a victim can recover compensatory damages. These may account for both economic and non-economic forms of harm. Economic damages usually cover financial costs, such as lost income from time missed at work and the medical expenses that a victim incurred. Non-economic damages cover the intangible effects of an accident, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and lost enjoyment of life.
Trucking companies and their insurers often try to make a case go away by offering a quick settlement, but the initial offer likely will be too low to fairly account for the full impact of an accident. Before taking a settlement offer, a victim should consult an experienced truck accident lawyer to find out about the strength and value of their claim. These consultations are usually free, and a victim probably will not need to pay an attorney upfront to take their case.