Each year, millions of commercial trucks, semis, tractor-trailers, and cargo vehicles transport billions of tons of freight across the United States. And while these big rigs are essential for the economy, the danger they pose to other drivers when truckers and trucking companies are negligent cannot be ignored. One critical safety issue that frequently arises in the trucking industry is the proper loading and securing of cargo.
Improper cargo loads can be a recipe for disaster
Improper loading of cargo in a commercial truck can create a dangerous chain reaction that ends in a catastrophic truck accident. For example, when a tractor-trailer is not loaded correctly, its cargo can shift during transport, causing the driver to lose control of the truck and potentially cause a serious or fatal crash.
There are two primary causes behind such accidents:
- Unbalanced cargo, which is especially dangerous in tractor-trailers or semi-trucks. Any shift of cargo can cause the trailer to sway and tip over, crushing anything in its path. Many rollover truck accidents and jackknife accidents can be traced back to an unbalanced cargo load.
- Unsecured cargo, which can be equally dangerous. Properly securing cargo in a trailer or a large truck may mean using straps, webbing, or hardware to prevent it from moving or falling out. Securely closing the vehicle's rear doors is also crucial to prevent any items from falling out and causing serious injury to other road users. In extreme cases, unsecured cargo that spills out onto a road or highway can cause devastating multi-vehicle pileups.
Federal regulations for securing cargo
A commercial vehicle's cargo must be secured to meet the strict guidelines set forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to ensure public safety and prevent catastrophic truck accidents.
Failure to abide by these guidelines can result in significant consequences for truck drivers and trucking companies, including fines and other penalties.
Common violations of these guidelines include:
- Neglecting to use appropriate tie-downs: The FMCSA requires the use of proper tie-downs to secure cargo during transport to prevent any movement, shifting, or falling off during transit. Failure to use these tie-downs correctly or not using them at all can lead to accidents.
- Poor loading and balance: Again, proper loading and balancing of cargo is critical to maintain the stability of the tractor-trailer during transport. Unbalanced loads can cause the truck's trailer to tip over or the driver to lose control.
- Faulty securing devices: Using securing devices that are not damaged or worn down is essential, as faulty devices can fail during transport.
- Improper use of securing devices: Even when the appropriate securing devices are used, failure to use them correctly can lead to a truck wreck. As such, truckers should be trained on the proper use of securing devices.
- Overloading: Overloading commercial trucks with cargo, that is, exceeding FMCSA weight limits, can cause significant strain on the vehicle's components, decrease the effectiveness of securing devices, and increase the odds of a tire blowout.
How negligence plays a role
The risks associated with unsecured cargo are exacerbated by several factors, including acts of negligence. One critical factor we briefly touched on above is the lack of proper training for truck drivers and others on how to load, balance, and secure cargo appropriately.
Another factor is the failure of truck drivers to inspect their cargo before and during transit to ensure that it remains secure. When trucking companies and cargo carrier companies do not provide essential securing equipment, or when truckers are pushed to meet unrealistic delivery schedules, the result is often a truck accident.
Liability for unsecured cargo truck accidents
Determining liability in a truck accident caused by unsecured cargo can be complex and involve multiple parties, including the commercial truck driver, cargo loader, trucking company, and equipment manufacturer:
- The truck driver can be held liable if they failed to ensure that the cargo was adequately secured after being loaded and before starting the trip. They are also responsible for regularly inspecting the cargo during the trip to ensure it remains secure.
- The truck loader is also liable if they did not follow proper loading procedures or failed to secure the cargo adequately.
- The trucking company can also be held accountable for accident injuries if it failed to provide adequate training to employees on cargo inspection or did not provide the necessary equipment to secure the load safely. A trucking company may also be held liable if it did not maintain or replace any worn equipment.
- Equipment manufacturers are responsible if the cargo securing equipment is defective or faulty and that defect causes cargo to shift or fall.
After a serious or fatal truck accident, evidence such as the trucker's driving logs, cargo records, bills of lading (BL or BoL), and expert witnesses such as accident reconstruction specialists can provide clues about how the crash occurred and help determine negligence. By establishing liability, crash victims can pursue a claim for damages, including compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and other accident-related expenses.
That said, you must act fast if you were injured or a loved one died in a truck accident. Insurance companies, particularly those with commercial vehicle policies, begin their investigations almost immediately after an accident. That means the longer you wait to talk to an attorney who can launch their own investigation into what happened, the more catching up you will have to do to ensure evidence isn't lost or destroyed.
Don't wait — contact a Laredo, TX truck accident lawyer today
Remember, hiring a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible is critical to protecting your legal rights. Attorney John R. Solis understands the complexities of truck accident cases and knows what it takes to get real results for crash victims in Texas. Our dedicated legal team can help you level the playing field against the trucking company and can aggressively advocate for your best interests throughout the entire legal process.
To learn more about how we can help you with your potential legal case, contact us today for a free case consultation. Our law firm proudly serves the needs of English and Spanish-speaking clients in Laredo and throughout the Rio Grande Valley, Texas.