While any accident involving a semi-truck, big rig, or other large commercial truck is always dangerous, the odds of severe injury and wrongful death increase when a collision involves falling cargo or flying debris.
The Killino Firm’s truck accident lawyers believe the victims of cargo-related accidents are entitled to compensation for their pain and suffering. If you or someone you love was injured or tragically killed because of an overloaded truck, unsecured freight, or improperly balanced cargo, call our law firm toll free at 877-875-2927 to speak with an attorney and learn more about your legal rights.
Why Falling Cargo Accidents are So Dangerous
According to a recent study from AAA, dangerous debris caused or contributed to more than 200,000 motor vehicle crashes over a four-year period. About 1/3 of those accidents occurred when unsecured freight fell from a cargo truck or cargo van, resulting in 500 deaths and 39,000 personal injuries.
No motorist is prepared to see a large item hurtling toward their car. Even if a driver avoids striking wayward cargo, they could still collide with other nearby vehicles while swerving out of the way. Improperly balanced or unsecured freight also makes a large truck more difficult to maneuver, especially if cargo shifts during transport.
Liquid cargo spills make roadways slick and are notorious for causing chain-reaction crashes. A single spark can ignite flammable liquids and trigger a fire that quickly spreads to nearby vehicles.
Even smaller pieces of debris can become dangerous projectiles when they fly off a truck and into the path of approaching motorists.
Causes of Falling Cargo and Flying Debris
Every day, garbage trucks, flatbed trucks, 18-wheelers, moving trucks, and other commercial trucks transport thousands of pounds of cargo along the roadways that crisscross the United States. While freight can come loose for several reasons, falling cargo is often a consequence of negligence on the part of the trucking company, its driver, the subcontractor loading the freight, or another party that came in contact with the cargo.
- Equipment Malfunctions: Truck drivers and their employers are responsible for inspecting their vehicles and ensuring cargo is loaded correctly and secured. Whensteel traps, wedges, tie-downs, or webbing are defective or failing, cargo is more likely to come loose and fall onto the road.
- Improper Stacking: To reduce the number of trips and save money on transportation costs, most fleet operators will load a cargo truck with as much freight as possible. But some unscrupulous operators will go even further and overload trucks by stacking cargo too high. This can throw the truck off balance and cause the vehicle to tip over or jackknife. Improperly stacked cargo on a flatbed truck or open trailer is also vulnerable to high winds and can pose a danger when moving beneath an overpass.
- Improperly Balanced Loads: Cargo needs to be properly balanced to ensure maximum safety. Otherwise, the driver may have difficulty making precise turns and stopping in time. An improperly balanced load could also fall onto the road or cause a semi-truck to jackknife while making a turn.
These cargo loading errors can lead to a variety of truck accidents, including:
- Cargo Collisions and Spills: Dropping cargo and liquid spills can create significant dangers for other motorists on the road.
- Jackknife Accidents: A jackknife accident occurs when a semi-truck’s trailer folds into the cab. A truck can jackknife if shifting cargo causes the driver to lose control of the vehicle.
- Rear-End Collisions: Overloaded trucks aren’t easy to stop and increase the odds of a rear-end collision. Such crashes often result from a combination of truck driver error and overloading.
- Rollovers: Shifting cargo, improperly balanced freight, and sloshing liquid cargo can cause a truck to roll over, especially if the driver is speeding or attempting to navigate a curve.
- Tire Blowouts: The tires used on commercial trucks are only intended to withstand a certain amount of weight. Overloaded trucks and improperly balanced freight can lead to worn tire treads and increase the risk of a blowout.
Federal Laws Regulating Commercial Cargo Trucks
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires that loaded cargo be able to withstand turning, stopping, and acceleration without coming loose. To ensure freight doesn’t shift during transport, FMCSA guidelines also require a minimum number of tie-downs based upon cargo weight.
In addition to the general regulations governing cargo trucks, the FMCSA has enacted a wide range of requirements for those hauling specific types of freight, including:
- Dressed lumber and similar building products
- Metal coils
- Paper rolls
- Concrete pipe
- Automobiles, light trucks, and vans
- Heavy vehicles, equipment, and machinery
- Flattened or crushed vehicles
- Roll-on/roll-off or hook-lift containers
- Large boulders
To ensure they’re following these regulations, truckers are required to periodically check in at weigh stations located along the nation’s highways and interstates. Violating cargo regulations can result in a fine of up to $5,000 and the inability to continue the trip.
Liability for Falling Cargo and Flying Debris
While many people assume that the truck driver is responsible when falling cargo or flying debris causes an accident, in reality, liability issues can be far more complex.
For example, the truck driver, their employer, and the trucking company can be held responsible if they neglected their duty to inspect the cargo and ensure all securing devices were adequately fastened.
If the truck was improperly loaded or overloaded, accident victims might be entitled to compensation from the subcontractor responsible for loading the truck. They and their families might also be able to pursue products liability claims against any company that manufactured defective equipment, including rope, tie-downs, straps, chains, cables, or webbing.
How to Stay Safe Around Cargo Trucks
Even when cargo has been properly loaded and secured, all large commercial trucks have big blind spots, long stopping distances, and limited maneuverability. For this reason, motorists must remain focused on safety whenever they’re traveling behind an 18-wheeler or other large commercial vehicle:
- Stay Out of No-Go Zones: Semi-trucks and other big rigs have large blind spots on both sides, as well as in the front and back. If you can’t see the driver in their vehicle side mirror, assume the driver can’t see you. Never drive in the blind spot. Slow down or move ahead to stay visible and take extra care when merging. Never cut off a heavy truck.
- Pass Safely: Make sure you can see the truck driver in their rearview mirror before attempting to pass, and make sure you can see the truck in your rearview mirror before pulling out in front. Never pass from the right lane, and don’t pass on downgrades where heavy trucks are likely to pick up speed. Stay to the right and slow down when a truck is passing; give them extra space to change lanes or merge in from ramps.
- Stay Back: Never tailgate a heavy truck. Give yourself extra space in case you have to stop quickly to avoid a collision.
- Anticipate Wide Turns: Because big commercial trucks need extra turning room, they often start a turn from the middle lane. Never try to squeeze by or get between a turning truck and the curb. At intersections, give trucks plenty of room to turn safely.
- Don’t Get Distracted: Never use your cell phone, text, apply makeup, or eat while driving. Keep your focus on the road.
- Stay Alert: To avoid fatigue on longer trips, take regular breaks, share driving duties, or get off the road and get some rest.
- Don’t Drive Under the Influence: Alcohol and other drugs impair judgment and reaction time. There is no safe limit for drinking before driving.
Contact an Experienced Truck Accident Lawyer
Our Truck Accident Lawyers have extensive experience handling cases involving fallen cargo and flying debris. Since these accidents may involve more severe injuries and multiple liable parties than a typical motor vehicle crash, you are less likely to have all of your damages covered by insurance. Our law firm has the resources and expertise to take on the trucking company attorneys and file a lawsuit on your behalf. If you or a loved one were hurt because of improperly secured or poorly loaded cargo, please contact us for a free consultation at 1-877-875- 2927.