Large trucks generally carry thousands of pounds of cargo on flatbeds, enclosed trailers, dump beds, or car haulers. If the cargo is not properly secured, it can fall and cause truck accidents resulting in catastrophic injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, or even death. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced cargo securement rules in September 2002 that became effective on January 1, 2004. The regulations contain many changes to the rules governing truck cargo, including how loads are tied down.
The FMCSA rules are designed to keep cargo from shifting on the truck or trailer while the truck is reversing, when the truck makes lateral movements, and when the truck is decelerating. According to the FMCSA, if a truck is moving at a rate of 32.2 feet per second, the velocity of falling items increases by 32.2 feet for every second it is falling. In a car crash, you and your vehicle suffer more damage the faster you are traveling when you hit something. The same applies to a falling item. The longer it falls, the faster it falls, which means whatever it hits, whether your vehicle or your person, is subject to a greater force of impact.
Lateral movement, such as a truck makes when it is turning around a corner or changing lanes on a multi-lane highway, is also a danger. Also, according to the FMCSA, with all other things being in ideal condition—the weather, roads, and the truck’s brakes—a truck driving the speed limit on an on-ramp creates 0.05 to 0.17 g-force on its load. If the truck is loaded and has a high center of gravity, such as a log truck, it will roll over when it is subject to more than 0.35 g-force. Even going one or two miles per hour over the speed limit can cause the g-force against the load to increase to over 0.35, which means the load will tip. It doesn’t take much, as the difference between tipping over and not tipping over is 18 one-hundredth of a G-force.
Thus, cargo needs to be secured so that it cannot move forward when the truck brakes, backward when the truck accelerates, or sideways when the truck is taking a corner.
Liability for Falling Cargo
Liability for falling cargo is generally based on who loaded the cargo or who supervised the loading of the cargo. If the driver loaded the cargo or works for a trucking company, the driver and/or the trucking company is the responsible party. In some cases, the trucking company loads the cargo for the driver. In this case, the trucking company is liable. If the trucking company hired a third party to load its trucks, that company or individual might be partially responsible.
The loader may use tie-downs, shoring bars, dunnage bags, or any combination of these securements to hold cargo in place, whether on an open trailer or truck bed or in an enclosed trailer or truck bed. Additionally, the loader must secure the cargo so that it cannot slide into other cargo. The loader should place cargo directly against other cargo and use wedges, chocks, or a cradle to keep the load from shifting during transit.
Falling Cargo Claims
Even if a truck does not directly collide with your vehicle, you may still file a claim if the truck’s load fell off and caused you to get into an accident. Falling cargo can cause injuries in several ways:
- The truck goes around a corner too quickly and the load either falls off the side of the truck or tips the truck over.
- The driver stops too quickly and an improperly secured load goes flying forward, over the truck’s cab and onto your vehicle.
- The driver accelerates and the load shifts rearward off the truck and onto your vehicle.
- The rear doors of an enclosed trailer or box truck open and the load slides out of the back of the truck or trailer.
Cargo weighs thousands of pounds and each piece can weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds, depending on the cargo: for example, a white oak log that is 16 inches in diameter at the small end, 32 inches in diameter at the large end, and 12 feet long, weighs about 2,755 pounds. If a truck has 20 of these logs on the trailer, that is over 55,000 pounds landing on your vehicle if the truck tips over and dumps the logs off the side—and that is if the truck itself doesn’t also hit your vehicle. If the logs stay strapped to the truck and the truck tips over onto a car, the truck will add at least an additional 15,000 pounds.
What to Do After a Falling Cargo Truck Accident
The most important thing to do immediately after an accident is to seek medical attention. The police will write a report and obtain the truck driver’s information. If you can, you should also ask for the trucker’s insurance, registration, and company information. But most importantly, be sure to get checked out by a doctor as soon as possible. Keep in mind that you may not start experiencing symptoms of certain injuries for a day or two. Be sure to tell your doctor or the emergency room that you were in a car accident and ask the doctor to check for all injuries, including concussions and whiplash.
As soon as possible after you receive medical care, contact a truck accident lawyer. You have a short amount of time to file a lawsuit and even less time to file a claim with an insurance company. A truck accident attorney can investigate the accident to find out who is liable for your injuries or the death of a loved one.
Never try to negotiate with the insurance company yourself. The insurance company will offer you as little as possible to protect its bottom line. Bring copies of all the documents you have related to your car accident to your initial consultation with the attorney, including medical records and the police report.