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Unsecured Cargo and Accidents With Commercial Trucks – Who is Liable?

Posted in Truck Accidents on May 22, 2022

An estimated 11 billion tons of freight were transported by millions of commercial trucks, semis, and other cargo vehicles throughout the United States in 2017, according to the American Trucking Associations. If that cargo is not properly secured while those commercial trucks are on the road, imagine the danger that it poses to other drivers. 

A person is killed or seriously injured in a crash caused by commercial trucks in the United States every 15 minutes, which totals 500,000 trucking accidents each year. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, large trucks are more likely to be involved in fatal multi-vehicle crashes than passenger vehicles, with a majority of these crashes happening when the roadways are dry and weather clear. When examining official data from the Federal Motor Carrier Standards Act, we see that a large truck is classified as having a gross vehicle weight rating over 10,000 pounds.

We will unload one of the biggest causes of commercial truck accidents, unsecured cargo, and what drivers need to know about their legal rights, their safety, and their liability if faced with a collision like this. 

How Does Poorly Loaded Cargo Affect Large Truck Wrecks?

If a large truck’s shipment is not properly loaded, it is a snowball effect of the freight shifting, which leads to the driver losing control, which leads to a major accident or fatality. 

Here is a closer look at the two main causes of this type of accident when cargo is poorly handled:

  • Unbalanced cargo, which is especially important in tractor-trailers or semi-trucks because when any part of an 80,000-pound load shifts to the left or right, the trailer can rock and fall on its side, destroying anything (or anyone) in its path. 
  • Unsecured cargo. There are laws that require shipment to be properly secured in a trailer or the back of a large truck so it does not move, shift, or fall out of the back by way of straps, webbing, or hardware. Also lifesaving: securely closed rear doors to avoid anything falling out of the back and hitting another vehicle.

What are the Laws on Securing Cargo?

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), cargo on commercial trucks must be secured in a specific way to prevent accidents and promote safety. 

If truck drivers fail to follow these set rules, they will face consequences, such as fines or other penalties, because unsecured cargo is a risk that can cause accidents with vehicles nearby. Further definition of these failures includes:

  • Failing to use any or appropriate tie-downs to secure cargo
  • Failing to properly load and balance cargo 
  • Using damaged or worn down securing devices
  • Not using securing devices correctly
  • Overloading commercial trucks with cargo, which decreases the effectiveness of secure devices and increases the chance of tire blowouts

Federal cargo securement rules also detail how securement equipment should be used and tested before use, which includes:

  • Tie-downs and any wire ropes
  • Steel strapping
  • Synthetic webbing and shoring bars
  • Chains or cords
  • Dunnage bags, or inflatable bags to fill in spaces between cargo

What Factors Can Increase the Hazards of Unsecured Cargo?

There are several forms of negligence that can factor into the act of unsecured cargo, which can involve:

  • Truck drivers or other cargo carrier workers were not properly trained on how to load, balance, and secure. 
  • Truck drivers did not inspect their cargo before their trip or at various stopping points during the trip to make sure the haul was still secure.
  • Cargo carrier companies failed to provide drivers with the essential securing equipment.
  • Cargo carrier companies have pushed drivers to deliver a demanding haul schedule or deadline, contributing to truckers not taking the time to secure and inspect their cargo.

Who is Liable for Unsecured Cargo Accidents?

While, ultimately, the commercial truck driver is usually responsible for unsecured cargo accidents and injuries, there could be other parties involved in the liability, including the truck cargo loader, the trucking company, and the security equipment manufacturer. 

  • The truck driver is liable if he or she did not check that the cargo was fully secured after being loaded and before taking off on the road, as well as regularly inspecting throughout the trip.
  • The truck loader is liable if he or she did not follow proper loading procedures and ensure that the cargo is secured. 
  • The trucking company is liable for accident injuries if it failed to provide proper training on cargo inspection to its employees or failed to provide the necessary equipment to safely secure a load. The company’s liability also comes into play if it did not maintain or replace any worn equipment.
  • The equipment manufacturers are liable if the cargo secure equipment was defective or faulty, contributing to shifting, balancing, or falling cargo.

How Can Victims Prove Liability After an Unsecured Cargo Truck Accident?

After a commercial truck accident caused by unsecured cargo, it is helpful to have evidence to prove who is liable in a claim for damages or injuries. Evidence could include:

  • Truckers’ driving logs, which track the driving hours per day (commercial truck drivers are not allowed to drive more than 11 consecutive hours after 10 hours off) and per week, time off work, and miles driven each day (there are no federal mile limits, but speed limits could and the truck’s odometer could come into play), and the Driver Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR).
  • The truck carrier company’s cargo records
  • The truck carrier’s bills of lading (BL), a legal document issued to a shipper that details the type, quantity, and destination of the goods being carried. It also acts as a receipt when the carrier delivers the goods to a predetermined destination.
  • Expert witnesses, like engineers or accident reconstruction experts

How Victims Can Get Legal Help After an Unsecured Cargo Truck Accident

The commercial truck accident attorney team at Redmann Law reviews the facts and details of victims involved in unsecured cargo accidents, delves into the evidence found, and explains the next steps to find justice for their injuries and damages.