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How Does Loose or Dangerous Cargo Contribute to Truck Accidents?

Truck Accidents Caused by Unsecured Cargo

After a serious tractor-trailer accident, most folks tend to blame the driver of the semi-truck by default. Because he was driving and became involved in an accident, they assume he must have done something wrong. However, some accidents may occur without any real fault on the driver's part if the trailer is improperly loaded.

When their trailers are overloaded or carry freight without proper balance and tie-downs, accidents can happen. In fact, even the safest, most professional drivers cannot control an improperly loaded truck. Notably, bad loads are a leading cause of death among truck drivers.

Questions this article will answer:

  • How does improper loading cause trucking accidents?
  • How can we prove the truck's loaders were at fault for the accident?
  • For accidents with trucks carrying cargo, is the trucking company or the truck loader liable?
  • Can the family of deceased truckers sue for unsecured freight accidents?

How does improperly-loaded freight causes truck accidents?

You don't need to be an accident reconstruction expert to think of scenarios in which an poorly-loaded trucks can become unwieldy and unsafe out on the highways. But you can't fully understand how these accidents occur without two pieces of basic knowledge regarding how the trucking business works. First, truckers are paid for each mile they drive, and that pay isn't particularly high. Also, the trucking company itself is similarly compensated---they charge customers by the mile. As a result, truckers and their employers both want to get their loads placed on the truck and out onto the road as fast as possible. This can be done efficiently and safely, but the natural temptation is to cut corners somewhere in the process to get the truck out of the yard faster.

Second, trucking companies have extremely high employee turnover. That means that drivers---and the men and women who load the trucks---might be under-trained or new to the industry. We've seen plenty of accidents caused by drivers who were only weeks out of driving school. It's not uncommon for a new guy, driving a forklift into the back of an 18-wheeler, to forget to tie down the freight before closing up the trailers.

While there are countless ways in which improperly-loaded trailers can cause accidents, they can be summed up with three different scenarios:

  • Cargo falls off the truck: It's not hard to imagine what sort of havoc a truck can cause if its freight flies out of its trailer while barreling down the highway. This can happen with traditional closed trailers where you have a combination of unsecured cargo that pushes through the back door. Or it can happen when a flatbed trailer has freight that isn't tied down properly. Lastly, tanker trucks have been known to spring leaks while driving, causing extremely hazardous road conditions.
  • Cargo shifts in the trailers: When not properly secured, freight will naturally move around in a trailer. It's a lot like putting groceries in the trunk of your car---twists and turns cause stuff to move. The main difference between your car and a tractor-trailer is that the latter vehicle is usually hauling several tons of freight. When that amount of weight shifts, the trucker 1) won't know it happened and 2) can't react fast enough even if he did. We've seen plenty of overturned trucks caused by this shifting weight.
  • Freight extends out from the trailer: We've all seen flatbed trailers. These are the open trailers without walls or roofs that carry heavy stuff like steel and concrete. Thankfully, most of the time the load is tied down securely with huge straps. However, even tied-down loads sometimes extend out too far. If, for example, steel beams or rods poke out from either side, then passengers in passing automobiles are at huge risk of serious injury or death.

Proving Who Was At Fault:

In general, partial fault for 18-wheeler accidents caused by loose cargo may lie with the person or people in charge of securing the freight. Naturally, the first person to place fault on is the truck driver. After all, it was his or her responsibility to ensure that every aspect of the truck was safe prior to a trip: that the tires were properly inflated, that the brakes were in safe operating condition, and that the cargo was tied down well enough to not come loose during travel. When a trucker fails to uphold at least a minimum standard of responsibility to other motorists by ensuring his vehicle is safe, they, along with their employer, must bear liability for the consequences.

It is also important to note that, through Texas law, trucking companies are also on the hook for damage their employees cause. After all, they are responsible for hiring and training their workers to operate in a safe manner. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for us to find in these cases that the at-fault trucking company had a history of poorly supervising their employees that had led to other accidents.

However, at times, the motor carrier business share responsibility with a third party loading company. Some trucking outfits will recognize that they do not have the proper equipment and expertise available to keep cargo secure, or handle additional complications resulting from the cargo's being less than the size of a truckload (known as an "less than truckload" or LTL carrier). As a result, they will outsource the loading to businesses with the manpower and experience to secure and tie large loads. This loading company, if it fails to do its job well enough, could indirectly make it more likely for heavy objects, hazardous materials, and other dangerous cargo to fall out of a truck. Although the trucking company will still bear some responsibility for such an accident, the loading company will, in all likelihood, be at least partially liable, and have to answer for their actions in a civil suit.

The evidence in these cases always involves a lot of finger-pointing. The loading company will claim it put the freight on properly, and so it must have been the driver's fault, while the driver will make the reverse claim: that he drove safely and the load just sprung loose because of inept loading. Without looking into the facts of your case, we obviously can't know who's actually responsible for what. But regardless, you can be sure that it's highly unlikely any responsible party will simply own up to their failure.

If someone you love died in a truck accident, check out this article: How Fatal Truck Accidents Work Under Texas Law.

How can an attorney help?

As we touched on above, improperly-loaded freight is a leading cause of 18-wheeler drivers' injuries and deaths. Drivers have an obligation to make an inspection of their load prior to travel, but that doesn't mean they do so as carefully as they should. If a loader forgets a tie-down or loads heavier freight on one side, disaster can result. If you lost a loved one in an accident like this, you could be hearing many different stories: maybe your loved one's boss is telling you it was another driver's fault, while you suspect it was the load. Regardless, it's important that you reach out for legal advice.

The 18-wheeler accident lawyers at Grossman Law Offices will explore your options for holding the parties responsible for your injury accountable. To begin your path to relief, call us at our toll-free number: (855) 326-0000.

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