Every vehicle has experienced the occasional rock or road debris striking their windshield. While the resulting damage is usually minor and covered by auto insurance, what happens when you encounter a dangerous road hazard such as fallen semi-truck cargo? If the cargo in a commercial truck is not properly loaded or secured, the cargo can shift in transit, causing the driver to lose control and tip over. Falling cargo can act as a projectile and penetrate the windshield of a trailing vehicle resulting in serious bodily injury or even death.
According to AAA, over a period of three years, more than 200,000 accidents were caused by falling debris. Approximately 25,000 crashes and 80-90 deaths occur in the United States each year. Traveling at a high rate of speed increases the risk of cargo falling from vehicles but decreases other drivers’ ability to react to hazards created by the airborne debris or debris on the roadway. More than one-third of all deaths reported in the study occurred when a driver swerved to avoid the falling debris. Overcorrecting at the last minute to avoid debris also increased a driver’s risk of losing control of their vehicle and making a bad situation even worse.
Common Reasons for Falling Cargo Accidents
- Many drivers rely on tie-downs, anchors, and other safety devices to secure their loads. Tie-downs can fail when they are worn down or sustain damage before use. Checking the condition of these parts is crucial before securing any type of loads/cargo. Broken anchor devices can also result from improper use or too much stress on the device.
Uncovered/Overfilled Dump Trucks
- Dump trucks carry loose material like construction debris, mulch, rocks, and sand. Accidents happen when drivers fail to cover their loads correctly or if they attempt to carry too much material than the truck can safely transport. Loose materials dropping off a truck traveling at a high rate of speed can obscure visibility and cause drivers to swerve to avoid a collision.
- If a load is not tightly secured it allows the cargo to move and/or shift inside the truck or on top of the flatbed. Cargo shifts that occur during transport can put pressure on the truck’s door, causing the cargo to spill out of the vehicle. These shifts can even cause the truck to tip over. Drivers must take preventive measures to make sure there is no wiggle room and check the load often to confirm it is held in place.
Duty to Secure Large Loads for All Motor Carriers & Commercial Truck Drivers
A standard sized-commercial truck can weigh as much as 40 tons when it is fully loaded with cargo, which means that it is crucial for the company/warehouse that loads the truck and the truck driver to ensure that cargo is correctly loaded and secured before heading onto the roadway. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has strict rules when it comes to commercial drivers securing their loads. Some of these requirements include:
- Depending on weight and size, a minimum amount of tie-downs/anchors to secure the load
- The cargo must be able to withstand acceleration, backing, and turning forces
- The cargo must be prevented from shifting or rolling while in transit
These regulations are strictly enforced by safety officers at weigh stations and checkpoints all over the country. In many states, commercial drivers can be fined up to $5,000.00 for unsecured commercial loads. As a result, it is common for drivers to avoid interstate weigh stations and checkpoints and only a small percentage of loads on the roadway are safely checked.
Illinois Trucking Accidents Due to Lost Cargo
In 1994, a Chicago family traveling on Interstate 94 was struck by a piece of metal debris in the roadway that had fallen from a commercial truck. The metal debris was a 90-pound, 6-inch in diameter, and 18-inch long bracket. The bracket punctured the mini-van’s gas tank causing the mini-van to burst into flames. The driver, a pastor from Chicago, and his wife were able to free themselves from the van but were sadly unable to save their six children. After years of litigation, the insurers for the truck, truck part manufacturers, and owners/operators paid a $100 million dollar settlement to the surviving parents and siblings.
More recently in 2013, a tractor-trailer driver exiting an interstate highway failed to sufficiently reduce his speed and subsequently dumped 40,000 pounds of coal onto the lanes of Interstate 55/70 westbound. The spill caused a chain reaction accident in which two vehicles sideswiped each other and another vehicle slammed on its breaks to avoid the collision, causing two other vehicles to collide. Three people were injured in the series of accidents and were taken to area hospitals with non-life threatening injuries. The incident resulted in Interstate 55/70 being closed for nearly four hours.
Who can be held liable for these accidents?
When injuries occur because of overloaded trucks or improperly loaded cargo, there are a number of parties that may be liable. While drivers are required to regularly inspect their truck’s cargo, they may have little control over the way the cargo was loaded and secured, especially if it was sealed and loaded by a separate shipping company. In these cases, the trucking company may be found to be negligent because it did not provide proper oversight for the loading process, or the company that loaded the cargo onto the truck may be found liable. In addition, a manufacturer may be held liable for damages caused by the failure of equipment used to secure loads.
Loose cargo is a serious problem throughout the numerous interstate highways and roads in Illinois. Victims of these overloaded or improperly loaded cargo trucks often sustain serious personal injuries, property damage, and in many cases can be fatal. For those harmed in an accident caused by falling cargo, it is crucial to have competent legal representation on their side to investigate who is liable and ensure that the victim is compensated for all harms that arose from the incident including medical bills, injuries, lost income, and even wrongful death for a victim’s family members. The truck accident attorneys at John J. Malm & Associates fight to get their clients the financial compensation they deserve when negligent trucking companies and truck drivers injure or kill innocent victims. If you or a loved one have been injured due to unsecured cargo or falling debris, contact one of our experienced truck accident attorneys to discuss your legal options.