When a negligent truck driver causes an accident, victims can typically seek compensation from the truck driver’s insurance company or his or her employer. But, what happens when the accident isn’t the truck driver’s fault, but is instead the result of an issue with the truck itself? Or, more specifically, when the accident is the result of improper loading or securing of truck cargo?
Along with truck driver negligence, cargo loading errors are among the most-common causes of serious and fatal commercial truck accidents. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), more than one in 20 serious and fatal commercial truck accidents involves the release of hazardous materials (HAZMATs), and even more involve issues related to cargo that is not itself inherently dangerous. This includes issues such as failure to properly secure cargo (resulting in the cargo falling off of the truck) and exceeding a truck’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) for safe cargo transport.
What are your legal rights if you are injured or a loved one is killed in a commercial truck accident involving dangerous or unsecured cargo? Who is responsible for your losses? How can you make sure you are not forced to live with the consequences of someone else’s mistake? Here is an overview of what you need to know:
Common Cargo-Related Issues with Commercial Trucks
18 wheelers and tractor trailers can carry an enormous amount of cargo. Under federal regulations, these trucks can legally weigh up to 40 tons (or 80,000 pounds) while traveling on the interstate and other public roads. Compare this to the weight of an average passenger vehicle (such as the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord, both of which weigh around 3,300 hundred pounds), and it is not hard to see why ensuring proper loading and securing of cargo is of utmost importance.
When loading cargo onto a large commercial truck, what can go wrong? As it turns out, quite a lot. The following are all common examples of cargo loading errors involving 18-wheelers, tractor trailers, tanker trucks, and other large commercial vehicles:
- Exceeding a truck’s GVWR
- Failing to properly cover loose cargo (such as gravel)
- Failing to pressurize liquid cargo (such as gasoline)
- Failing to secure cargo with proper straps, chains or tie-downs
- Overloading one side of a truck
- Placing too much weight at the front or rear of the truck
- Using straps, chains, or tie-downs that are not strong enough to hold cargo in place
Unfortunately, while commercial trucking companies are subject to strict federal safety regulations, this alone is not enough to protect innocent drivers and passengers. One reason is that these safety regulations take into account the realities of commerce in today’s world, and therefore they do not necessarily prioritize safety over all other competing factors. Another reason is that trucking and shipping companies routinely violate these safety regulations, placing profits and efficiency ahead of the safety of other motorists on the road.
How These Issues Cause Accidents
Whether due to intentional safety violations, pure negligence, or other factors, these cargo-related issues can cause commercial truck accidents in a variety of different ways. Some of the most-common types of cargo-related accidents in the Chicago area include:
1. Falling Cargo Hits a Vehicle
When loose cargo falls from a vehicle, it can present an extreme hazard to all drivers in the vicinity. One of the most-dangerous types of accidents involving falling cargo occurs when the cargo hits another vehicle directly, breaking or penetrating the windshield and causing the driver and any passengers severe lacerations and other traumatic injuries. In this scenario, it is not uncommon for the driver to lose control and collide with other vehicles or stationary objects (such as guardrails or telephone poles) as well.
2. Falling Cargo Causes an Accident
Even if falling cargo does not hit another vehicle directly, it can still put drivers in situations where they are helpless to avoid a collision. Oftentimes, drivers in this scenario will be forced to choose between hitting the fallen cargo or swerving and colliding with another vehicle. Either way, the fallen cargo is clearly the cause of the accident, and all victims who are injured deserve to recover just compensation.
3. Liquid Cargo Spills onto the Road
Spills of liquid cargo, including water, gasoline, oil, other chemicals, and even chocolate, can present a variety of risks for unsuspecting motorists. Aside from causing general confusion and chaos on the road, spills can also make the road slippery, and gasoline and other HAZMATs can present fire and exposure hazards. Tanker truck spills often result in multi-vehicle, chain-reaction accidents, and they can cause a variety of types of internal and external injuries.
4. The Truck Becomes Compromised or Unstable
Trucks that have been overloaded or improperly-loaded can become compromised or unstable, not only making it more difficult for the driver to maintain control, but also increasing the risk of tire blowouts, brake failures, and other truck-related issues. Improperly-loaded trucks can also be more prone to jackknifing or rolling over and potentially crushing other vehicles on the road.
5. The Truck Driver Loses Control
Even the most-experienced truck drivers will be powerless to control a truck that is out of control due to improper cargo loading. Truck drivers who are unaware that their trucks have been overloaded may not be able to stop in time to avoid rear-ending another vehicle, and those who attempt to brake suddenly in order to avoid a collision may find themselves completely helpless to do so.
The Companies That May Be Responsible
When a cargo loading error causes a commercial truck accident, there are potentially a few different companies that can be responsible for accident victims’ losses. These companies include:
- The Trucking Company – If the company that owns and operates the truck was also responsible for loading its cargo safely, then any accidents resulting from cargo loading errors are likely to be the responsibility of the trucking company.
- The Loading or Shipping Company – If a third-party loading or shipping company placed the cargo onto the truck or filled the contents of a tanker or shipping container, then this company could be responsible for all accident victims’ property damage and injury-related losses.
- A Truck or Component Manufacturer – If the accident resulted from a defect in the truck, a cargo strap or other restraint, or any other component relied upon for safe cargo transport, then the manufacturer (and any other companies in the “chain of distribution”) could be liable for the accident as well.
Proving Negligence in Order to Secure Just Compensation
In order to establish these companies’ liability, it is essential to conduct an investigation at the scene of the accident as soon as possible. In addition to the police, there are likely to be several other parties investigating the accident as well (including the trucking company, the shipping company, the truck manufacturer, each of these companies’ insurers, and other accident victims’ law firms and insurance companies), and you want to make sure you gather the evidence you need before it is too late. Depending upon the circumstances involved, some types of evidence that could be key to your claim for financial compensation include:
- The location and orientation of the truck
- The location of your vehicle and any other vehicles involved in the accident
- The location of any cargo that has fallen from the truck
- Skid marks on the road
- Damage to the road, guardrails, signs, and other objects
- Road and weather conditions at the time of the accident
- The location and extent of the damage to your vehicle (and any other vehicles involved in the accident)
- Any damage to the truck, including damage that is consistent with a component defect
- Eye witness testimony
- Traffic camera or dash cam footage
Knowing When to Settle Your Chicago Truck Accident Claim
Once you know what caused the accident and who was at fault, then you can file a claim to secure full compensation for your current and future losses. After you file your claim, you may eventually receive an offer to settle. If this happens, how can you make an informed decision about whether to accept the settlement offer or continue on the path toward trial?
The key to making an informed decision about settlement is to ensure that you have a clear understanding of your current and future losses. Until you know what your claim is worth, you simply have no way of knowing what constitutes a fair settlement. At Malman Law, our injury attorneys work closely with our clients and a team of outside investigators, doctors, engineers, and other experienced professionals to make sure we know how much our clients’ cases are worth, and we give our clients all of the information they need to make informed decisions about protecting their legal rights.
Schedule a Free Truck Accident Consultation at Malman Law
Were you injured or was a loved one killed in a commercial truck accident in the Chicago area? If so, our personal injury attorneys can help you seek maximum compensation for your losses. To learn more in a free and confidential consultation, call us at 888-625-6265 or request an appointment online today. You pay nothing unless we win.