Trucking serves a vital function in the American economy. For example, California has 11 major ports across its coastline, making it one of the country’s busiest areas for commercial traffic. While large trucks transport necessary goods across the nation, their large numbers can pose a grave danger to other road users. This threat increases exponentially when the people responsible for loading commercial vehicles fail to do so in a safe manner.
Improperly loaded cargo causes some of the most catastrophic truck accidents because it can limit a driver’s ability to control the vehicle. People who suffer injuries in an accident involving an improperly loaded truck can face devastating financial, bodily, and psychological consequences.
If an improperly loaded truck hit you, the responsible party might owe you compensation for your injuries and other losses. Understanding how and why your accident happened could help you understand your rights and seek the fair compensation you deserve. Speak to an experienced California truck accident lawyer to learn more about your legal options.
Signs of an Improperly Loaded Truck
Almost all accidents involving improperly loaded trucks are preventable. If someone had been more responsible at some point in the process, the crash would likely not have happened. This fact makes the consequences of these collisions all the more tragic.
Truckers, trucking companies, and cargo loaders should be able to recognize a commercial vehicle with improperly loaded cargo by noticing:
- Uneven weight distribution in the trailer
- Cargo loaded with a high center of gravity, which increases the truck’s risk of tipping over
- Overloading of cargo in the trailer
- Cargo without proper securement measures, which can cause goods to fall off the trailer and create hazards on the road
- Cargo that does not have a sufficient number of tie-downs
- Types of tie-downs securing the cargo are not appropriate for the weight or variety of the cargo in the trailer
- Cargo that does not have proper covering
- A lack of header boards on the trailer, which increases the risk of cargo spills
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires truck drivers to stop driving and take steps to secure the cargo properly if they notice any of these signs. If they fail to do so and their negligence leads to a collision, they may be liable for any losses the accident might have caused.
Common Types of Truck Accidents from Improper Cargo Loading
When the cargo in a truck’s trailer lacks proper loading or distribution, the risks of certain types of accidents increase dramatically.
The most common truck accidents in these circumstances include:
- Rollover accidents. Because of their size, trucks inherently have a higher potential for rolling over than passenger cars. And this rollover risk increases substantially if there are issues with the cargo’s loading or distribution. When unsecured cargo shifts inside the trailer, the truck can lose stability when the driver makes a turn or changes lanes. Rollover truck accidents can crush smaller vehicles and endanger the lives of other road users.
- Jackknife accidents. A jackknife accident happens when a truck skids out of control, causing the cab and the trailer to move in two different directions. All tractor-trailers are prone to jackknifing in certain circumstances. One of the leading causes of this type of accident is improper cargo loading. A jackknife accident can cause devastating damage and injuries by creating a sudden and potentially catastrophic hazard on the road.
- Cargo spills. When a truck’s cargo lacks the required securement, materials can fall out of the trailer and spill onto the road. The suddenness of this type of event can create unpredictable road hazards. Other drivers may collide with the spilled goods or swerve to avoid them. Multi-vehicle accidents are often the result of cargo spills.
The potential for severe, catastrophic, or fatal bodily harm is high in any of these accidents. Speak to a seasoned truck accident attorney to learn more about the significant compensation you may be eligible to claim.
Regulations for Safe Truck Loading
The risk of serious accidents is the reason for strict federal loading regulations.
The FMCSA imposes the following cargo loading rules to minimize the prospect of damage and life-altering injuries:
- Strict weight limits for cargo in a truck’s trailer
- A compulsory number of tie-downs to secure the cargo and prevent goods from shifting while the vehicle is in motion
- Specific transportation requirements for certain types of cargo, including hazardous materials
- Mandatory driver re-inspection of the cargo every three hours or 150 miles while in transit
Because trucking companies know they must comply with these federal regulations, they often employ loading companies who are familiar with the necessary procedures. Yet cost-cutting or time-saving pressures often lead to a lack of adherence to the required standards. Suppose a trucking company or a loading company breaks federal laws by neglecting to load the cargo property. When this happens, you could hold these parties liable for any injuries you sustain as a result.
Loading Requirements for Different Types of Commercial Vehicles
Because the types of trucks and the goods they transport vary substantially, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to loading a commercial vehicle. Understanding the specific cargo loading and securement requirements for different types of trucks can help you recognize whether improperly secured cargo caused your accident-related personal injuries.
Flatbed trucks hauling cargo tend to be subject to minimum tie-down regulations. The people who load the cargo on these trucks must employ an appropriate number of straps to ensure a load is secure. The number will vary depending on the type and size of the load. A roadway spill becomes more likely if the loading company does not use enough straps or the wrong type of tie. The result can be a catastrophic multi-vehicle accident.
Regulations sometimes permit the use of snug tarps. But if the tarp becomes worn or frayed over time, the cargo will not be secure. Using unsafe tarps could have the same tragic consequences as insufficient ties or straps.
While improperly secured cargo on flatbed trucks may present more visible risks, unsecured cargo in traditional semi-trucks can also cause collisions. If the people who load a semi-truck with an enclosed trailer do not take the proper precautions with their cargo, the uneven weight distribution can impair the driver’s ability to control the vehicle.
Loaders must distribute the weight of the cargo evenly within the trailer, enabling the driver to accelerate and decelerate evenly. If the loaders place all or most of the goods on just one side of the trailer, they increase the potential for rollover accidents.
A tanker truck transports liquid goods, including:
- Diesel fuel
- Flammable liquids
When those who load tanker trucks neglect to consider the volume of liquid they are placing into the tanker, they put the driver and other road users at risk. Partially filled containers can cause the same issues as unsecured cargo in a semi-truck. As the liquid splashes around in the tanker, it can cause sudden shifts in the trailer’s weight distribution. In some cases, these shifts can result in tip-over accidents.
Truck Drivers and Cargo Inspections
FMCSA regulations require truck drivers to inspect their cargo and ensure its proper securement at regular intervals during each journey, including:
- At the beginning of each trip
- Within the first 50 miles of the trip, after loading the cargo
- Every three hours or every 150 miles they have traveled, whichever happens first
- After duty changes
If the driver notices that the cargo or its securement has any issues, they must take steps to rectify the situation. These steps can include replacing broken straps or ties, adding additional securing devices, and notifying the trucking company before they recommence their journey.
Drivers who fail to inspect their cargo according to FMCSA regulations may be liable for any losses resulting from improperly loaded truck accidents. An experienced truck accident attorney can review all the available evidence to determine whether the driver complied with federal requirements.
Reasons Improper Loading May Lead to a Truck Accident
Loading violations can lead to catastrophic outcomes.
The most common reasons improperly loaded trucks cause accidents include:
- Unbalanced loads. When the people responsible for loading a vehicle fail to distribute the weight of the cargo evenly, the risk of rollover accidents increases dramatically. An unbalanced load can lift the truck’s center of gravity, impairing the trucker’s ability to control the vehicle. Uneven loads can also contribute to undue strain on truck tires and other components. These imbalances can lead to mechanical failures and tire blowouts.
- Excessive weight. Each commercial truck is subject to maximum weight requirements. Truck manufacturers assign a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) to each vehicle they produce. Trucks that exceed this limit may not function properly. Further, every state imposes a weight limit for trucks to prevent overloading accidents. In California, trucks must not exceed 80,000 pounds in gross weight or 20,000 for each axle. When a truck does not comply with these laws, its driver is more likely to lose control of the vehicle.
- Improperly secured cargo. Many truck accidents happen because the people responsible for loading the cargo did not secure it properly. When this occurs, goods can shift around in the trailer, causing unpredictable and uncontrollable movements.
Who Is Liable for an Improperly Loaded Truck Accident?
A truck’s loading and securement are the responsibility of several parties. Sometimes, these parties work for different companies. Depending on who acted negligently during the loading and securement process, one or more of these parties may be liable for any resulting accident-related losses. Anyone who breaches FMCSA or California regulations for safe loading may be at fault for your injuries.
Those in violation may include:
- The truck driver. Truckers have the responsibility to inspect their cargo before and during each journey. Those who fail to do so are liable for accidents their unsecured cargo may cause.
- The trucking company. If the trucking company’s negligence in loading or securing the truck’s cargo contributed to the accident, you could hold them accountable for your losses.
- The loading company. Trucking companies sometimes hire a third party to ensure that the cargo’s loading and securement comply with FMCSA and state regulations. Yet these loading companies do not always perform their duties perfectly, and even minor mistakes or oversights can have devastating consequences on the road.
- The securement equipment manufacturer. Some cargo-related accidents happen even though the driver, the trucking company, and the loading company followed all necessary regulations. In such cases, faulty securement equipment might be the culprit. If your injuries happened because of defective tie-downs, straps, or other cargo safety devices, you might be eligible to claim compensation from the manufacturer of the faulty equipment.
Because multiple parties are often involved, determining who is at fault for an improperly loaded truck accident can feel overwhelming after an injury accident. The possibly negligent companies may have armies of high-powered attorneys to protect their interests, and you can expect them to do everything they can to avoid paying you the compensation you deserve. An experienced California truck accident attorney will fight to protect your rights.
How an Experienced California Truck Accident Attorney Could Help
In the aftermath of a truck accident, you deserve to focus on your recovery. You should not have to deal with insurance company representatives and the injury claims process. That’s why you should hire a personal injury lawyer with specific experience handling truck accident claims to represent you.
A knowledgeable and skilled California truck accident attorney could help you by:
- Investigating the accident and securing crucial evidence
- Identifying which party or parties might be liable
- Calculating the amount of money you deserve for your losses
- Negotiating a fair settlement on your behalf
- Filing a lawsuit and taking the at-fault party or parties to court if they refuse to pay you what you deserve
Don’t let the carelessness of a truck driver, trucking company, or another entity turn your life upside down. You may seek fair compensation if you did not cause the crash.