Trucking accidents are often caused by truck driver fatigue and intoxication. Yet these two issues are in no way the only sources of serious truck accidents. You might be surprised to learn that the cargo loaded into a semi-truck or onto a flatbed trailer can directly cause a crash as the truck rolls down the highway.
How Cargo Causes Truck Accidents
Cargo that comes loose from straps and restraints can be thrown backwards onto the road, hitting any vehicle behind the truck. Even if a direct hit is not caused, the debris scattered across the lanes can cause other drivers to swerve, slam the brakes, and otherwise overcorrect and crash. Although it might seem like such a crash is the fault of those drivers, the truth is that liability should be placed on the commercial truck, too.
There can also be significant dangers caused by freight that has been loaded incorrectly, not necessarily loosely. Overloading a commercial truck with cargo can cause the truck to exceed its approved weight limit. When the trucker hits the brake, the excess weight can either greatly extend the truck’s expected braking distance or cause total brake failure, turning the truck into an out-of-control multi-ton vehicle.
Furthermore, cargo can be stacked in a trailer incorrectly to the point that it makes a hazard. A top-heavy trailer is prone to tipping over when the truck rounds a corner sharply, changes lanes suddenly, or gets hit by a gust of wind. Any motorists in an adjacent lane will be in immediate danger of being crushed by the trailer as it falls over.
Do Truck Drivers Assume Liability for Cargo-Related Accidents?
If you get hit by loose cargo that falls off a tractor-trailer, you might have the instinct to assume that the truck driver is solely liable for your resulting damages, like medical bills and vehicle repairs. However, you might only be partially correct. Truck drivers are usually liable to some extent for accidents caused by their vehicles, but, in cargo-related accidents, there is usually at least one more defendant: third-party load crew.
Truck drivers often do not have any say in how cargo is loaded onto or removed from their vehicles. When they are transporting goods and products for a third party like a retail store, they will often park the truck in the loading bay and take a rest while employees of that store deal with the freight. If an issue arises with unsecured cargo later, then some of the liability could be put on that company, not the trucker or their employer.
Although, truck drivers should take a minute to inspect ratchet straps, locks, and other securements before setting out on the road again. Failing to take this basic precautionary step is how a truck driver can still remain liable for cargo accidents.
Warning Signs of Unsecured Cargo
How can you tell if a truck has unsecured or improperly loaded cargo?
- You notice small pieces of cardboard, plastic, and other random debris in the lane behind the truck.
- The trailer doors swing open partially while the truck is in motion. Trailer doors should not move at all if they have been closed and secured properly.
- A tarp or cloth covering over a flatbed comes loose in one corner, waving into the air like a flag.
- The entire truck seems to stagger or tip whenever it changes lane, which could be an indicator of the trailer being top-heavy.
- Whenever the truck driver hits the brakes, it causes a loud screeching sound that could be associated with the brakes failing and the trailer being overloaded.
If you are driving and notice any of these warning signs when driving near a commercial truck, try to distance yourself from the vehicle when it is safe to do so. You can choose a nonadjacent lane, follow many car lengths behind, or get a few car lengths ahead of it.
In case you are hurt in a truck accident caused by improperly loaded cargo, you should plan to speak with a truck accident attorney about how to pursue fair and full compensation. If you live in Virginia, you can call (757) 330-3425 to connect with Huffman & Huffman, one of the state’s most trusted personal injury law firms.