Unsecured Truck Loads: A Risk to Your Life
The above phrase might appear overly dramatic to you. We’ve all seen trucks that are overflowing with furniture or other materials, or flatbeds precariously loaded with pipes or logs. Perhaps you’ve even had a heart-stopping moment near one of them. But a risk to your life?
Yes. The loved ones of Matthew Reif of Phoenix can attest to it. In 2006, Reif was killed when a piece of scrap metal flew off an unsecured truck load in front of him. The metal broke through the windshield and impaled Reif through his heart, taking his life.
Maria Federici was more fortunate—she didn’t die when some particle board flew off a rented trailer and smashed into her windshield in 2004. She did, however, have almost every bone in her face broken and was nearly decapitated.
A Not-Uncommon Occurrence
Such tragic situations happen more often than you may think. Consider a 2012 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, which found that 440 deaths and 10,000 injuries occurred because of unsecured load accidents—and that was in the year 2010 alone. The same study also discovered that a greater number of injuries and deaths happen in states with fewer laws to deal with those who are careless with their loads.
Did you know that if the truck is traveling at 55 miles per hour and an object weighing only 20 pounds flies off, it will strike you with a force of over 1,000 pounds? This fact explains why accidents with unsecured loads can cause such devastating injuries or death.
Federal Law Requires Secure Cargo
We do have federal regulations regarding truck loads that apply to both commercial and non-commercial trucks. You could be moving an easy chair only a few blocks, but the laws require you to strap down the item properly to keep it from flying out of the truck’s bed and creating an accident. Likewise, tarps are required in a number of situations to keep loose items such as gravel from leaving the truck bed.
Securing cargo is even more essential for commercial vehicles. Imagine the destruction that’s possible if a load of pipes or lumber rolled off a flatbed while you werein a nearby car. Poorly secured loads can also cause something called “cargo shifting,” meaning that the loads move around with the motion of the truck. If the load is heavy enough, and the movement is significant enough, it can cause a driver to lose control. The truck and its fully loaded trailer—which might weigh as much as 80,000 pounds—could then veer into an oncoming lane, fall onto a vehicle in the lane next to it, or overturn and roll. In such situations, the possibilities for severe injuries and death are substantial.
States Create Exclusions
Many states have certain exemptions for commercial vehicles. For example, Maryland provides exceptions for vehicles transporting agricultural products or for dropping materials meant to provide traction (such as sand or rock salt) or to clean the roadway. D.C. and Virginia have similar exemptions.
State fines regarding unsecured loads can be astonishingly small; in Maryland, the fine is $500. In fact, just 8 states out of 50 have fines greater than $500, and only 15 states include the possibility of jail time. When you consider the havoc an unsecured load can wreak on an unsuspecting driver or passenger, these penalties may appear puny.
Equally puny is the provision for educational programs that teach how to safely secure truck loads. A mere 20 percent—10 states—have such programs. Maryland is not one of them.
A Job Not Done
Why do accidents caused by unsecured loads happen? Perhaps the person responsible for the load was behind schedule. Perhaps they were preoccupied. Perhaps they simply didn’t care. Whatever the reason, the fundamental legal term for such behaviors is negligence. Put simply, someone didn’t do their job.
Accidents arising from unsecured loads can have many reasons that spring from negligence:
- The cargo is not tied down at all, has no tarp covering it, or is insufficiently secured.
- The cargo is not checked along the travel route to ensure that it remains properly secured.
- The driver speeds or executes certain maneuvers that cause the load to fall off the truck or tip over the truck.
Who is Responsible?
Perhaps the most fundamental questions you need to ask after an unsecured cargo accident is who is at fault and whether negligence was involved. With commercial vehicles, the list of responsible parties can be long:
- The trucking company’s owner—Did they break any laws?
- The truck driver—Were they tired because they were driving outside of the boundaries of their hours of service, or were they under the influence?
- The truck’s mechanic—Did they repair and maintain the truck properly?
- The truck’s manufacturer—Were there defective or recalled parts?
- The shipper sending the cargo on the truck—Were there hazards that were improperly kept a secret?
- The government entity responsible for the road—Were signals or lights lacking, or were roads in poor repair?
Remember that a trucking company’s primary interest is to move their cargo as cheaply as possible so they can make a profit. At times, such self-interest can conflict with safety regulations, with disastrous results.
Truck Accident? Turn to Steve Heisler, The Injury Lawyer.
If you have been involved in a collision with a truck, you may be concerned about how you’re going to make ends meet. You may be confused about how to go about seeking compensation from the negligent driver. That’s understandable. Not only are truck accidents likely to be serious due to the size of the vehicles involved, but they are legally more complex and may involve multiple parties, including the driver’s company, truck owner, truck manufacturer and others.
Steve Heisler has been helping injured people in Maryland for more than two decades with all types of vehicular accidents. Steve’s thorough investigation will uncover all potential defendants in your case, demanding just compensation for your medical expenses, rehabilitation, loss of income, and pain and suffering. If you lost a loved one because of a big rig driver’s negligence, Steve can help your family recover through a wrongful death lawsuit.
You’d better believe the trucking company and its insurer will have a team of lawyers to protect their interests. Call Steve Heisler, The Injury Lawyer, to protect yours. Call (410) 625-4878 for a no-cost, no-obligation consultation, or use our online contact form.