Commercial trucking accidents in Georgia are most commonly associated with some form of driver error or negligence. But there are a number of other parties whose actions may have contributed to an accident. Indeed, some accidents begin well before the truck gets onto the highway. One common example of this is accidents caused by improperly loaded cargo.
A fully loaded semi truck can weigh upwards of 80,000 pounds. A truck’s cargo accounts for a substantial amount of that weight. And as you might imagine, you cannot simply throw that cargo into–or on top of–a truck and assume that everything is good to go. There are a number of specific federal safety regulations that must be strictly followed in order to ensure the truck’s cargo does not become loose during transport and potentially lead to a catastrophic accident.
Why Proper Loading Techniques Matter
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) oversees interstate trucking in the United States. The FMCSA regulates a number of areas related to commercial trucking safety, including requirements for properly loading cargo. The main goal of these regulations is to ensure that all cargo is loaded in such a way that the truck as a whole maintains a proper balance.
Balance is critical for the safe operation of a truck as it speeds down a public highway. If a truck’s load is not properly balanced, the truck and its trailer can become unstable during transport. This can make it substantially more difficult for the truck driver to control their vehicle. The truck may start to “veer” into other lanes unexpectedly. And in the worst case scenario, the truck may overturn while navigating a turn or start to “jackknife,” i.e., the trailer swings out across the highway.
There is also a potential hazard created by improperly secured cargo that can fall off the top of an open truck–or even spill out of an enclosed trailer. Any cargo that falls off a commercial semi truck is effectively a projectile weapon that can easily damage any other vehicle on the road and seriously injure or kill its passengers. Even something as innocuous as a load of bricks or wood logs can be as dangerous as a loaded gun when they fall off a truck.
Some additional risks of improper loading of a commercial truck include:
- Excess Weight: If a truck is loaded above the maximum gross vehicle weight for its type, the excess cargo can lead to failures of key systems on the vehicle, such as its tires and brakes. It can also make it more difficult to stop the truck or maneuver the vehicle in poor road and weather conditions.
- Changes to the Center of Gravity: Rollover accidents are often the result of shifts in a truck’s center of gravity. This can result from cargo being improperly loaded. For instance, if the cargo is stacked too high inside of the trailer, or the cargo is loaded too much to one side, that can throw the center of gravity off.
- Oversized Loads: Certain types of cargo require special care due to their excessive size, width, or length. In some cases, the truck may require additional escort vehicles and additional equipment to ensure safe transport. If these arrangements are not made, the oversized load can lead to an accident.
Who Is Responsible for Improperly Loaded Cargo?
Sorting out liability for a truck accident caused by improperly loaded cargo can get complicated. This is because there may be multiple parties at-fault for what happened. In some cases, there may be different companies responsible for the shipping, loading, and transport of a particular cargo. Each company needs to be identified and have their role–and potential negligence–ascertained as part of a truck accident lawsuit.
And the reality is that each of these parties may be negligent in a different way. Some of the common questions that need to be answered may include:
- Did the party responsible for dispatching the truck appropriately match the cargo of the specific vehicle? Or did the dispatcher assign the cargo to a truck that was not capable of transporting it safely?
- Was the truck driver properly trained in transporting cargo? Did they know the weight limits for their truck? Did they understand and follow all of the FMCSA regulations for securing their cargo?
- Were there proper procedures in place for picking up sealed trailers?
- Did the loading company have a history of prior incidents involving overloading or improper loading of their trailers?
- Did all of the companies involved have proper policies in place to audit their cargo loading practices to ensure they were complying with FMCSA regulations and other industry standards?
- What were the trucking company’s procedures for handling oversized loads?
- Did the driver perform a pre-trip inspection to ensure their cargo was properly secured and balanced?
- Did the driver subsequently inspect their cargo and ensure it was properly secured at regular intervals during their trip?
- Did the driver check their tire rating and inflation to ensure they could handle the cargo load?
- Did the driver plan their route to ensure they would be able to safely navigate the truck given its current weight?
Critical Steps Following a Truck Accident Involving Cargo
If you are ever involved in a truck accident caused by loose or improperly loaded cargo, there are a few steps you can take to help secure your legal rights should you need to seek compensation for your injuries. Of course, you should always prioritize seeking medical attention for yourself and others who were injured at the scene. But here are a few additional steps to keep in mind:
- Call 911. It is important for the police to take charge of the accident scene and conduct an official investigation.
- Document the scene yourself. If there is loose cargo on the road, take pictures of it with your smartphone camera.
- Take down names. In addition to exchanging basic information with the truck driver, gather the names and contact information for anyone who might have seen what happened.
- Call an attorney. An experienced Atlanta truck accident lawyer can review your case and advise you on what steps to take next.
The team at Stewart Miller Simmons Trial Attorneys have helped many Atlanta-residents like you seek appropriate civil justice following a preventable commercial trucking accident. Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation.