Many commercial trucking accidents involve a flatbed colliding with another vehicle, but falling cargo is also a concern. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), in three years, loose cargo and debris falling onto the roadway caused more than 200,000 accidents. About two-thirds of these accidents resulted from cargo falling from a truck or other large vehicle due to improper maintenance and unsecured loads. The remaining one-third resulted from drivers swerving to avoid obstacles on the roadways.
Commercial trucks, specifically large tractor-trailers, present significant safety threats on the road. A fully loaded tractor-trailer can weigh up to 80,000 pounds. If one of these massive trucks travels at high speeds and loses any portion of its cargo, outcomes can be catastrophic.
Falling cargo creates obstructions on the roadways and can directly strike another vehicle, putting other motorists at risk of severe injury.
Common causes of cargo-related accidents include:
- Overloading cargo on a flatbed: As a cost-cutting measure, trucking companies tend to load as much cargo as possible in trailers and on flatbeds. Trucking and shipping companies rationalize that if they load more cargo on a single truck, their drivers have to make fewer trips. Fewer trips can reduce gas, lower maintenance costs, and lessen the number of truck drivers on the roads. The downside is, cargo stacked too high can fall off a flatbed. Depending on its size and shape, falling debris can smash into windshields or completely crush nearby vehicles. If debris falls onto the road, cars might swerve to avoid it, crashing into other vehicles.
- Failing to secure hazardous materials on a flatbed: Commercial trucking companies sometimes haul hazardous materials, including oil, gas, and other flammable chemicals. If hazardous materials are improperly secured, they can fall off a flatbed, creating dangerous road conditions. Even more catastrophic, flammable chemicals can catch fire, leading to severe burns and significant property damage.
- Distributing cargo unevenly in a trailer: When trucking companies distribute cargo unevenly in a trailer, truck drivers face difficulties turning and braking. When cargo shifts inside a trailer, it can also cause the truck to veer out of control quickly. In extreme cases, improperly loaded cargo can result in rollovers, jackknife crashes, and other serious accidents.
- Securing cargo on flatbeds with faulty equipment: Trucking companies frequently use tie-downs, steel straps, and webbing to secure cargo on a flatbed. If any of these mechanisms fail, and a truck is driving at high speeds, cargo can go flying onto the road. These obstacles can result in multiple accidents or car pileups.
What Types of Injuries Do Falling Truck Cargo Cause?
If a trucking company or truck loader overloads a trailer, distributes cargo unevenly, or uses faulty equipment to secure a load on a flatbed, there is a high chance that cargo will fall off the truck and cause an accident. Because of the sheer size and weight of trucks, any type of trucking accident can be catastrophic. Falling cargo can cause terrible accidents and severe injuries.
Common injuries from falling cargo include:
- Traumatic brain injuries: When cargo falls off a flatbed, it can crash through windshields and side windows, causing severe head trauma. Traumatic brain injuries can be life-changing and create significant challenges for an accident victim, including (1) chronic headaches; (2) frequent confusion and disorientation; (3) memory loss; (4) severe mood swings; and (5) trouble sleeping.
- Spinal cord injuries: Depending on the type of debris that hits a vehicle, direct spinal cord injury can occur. Spinal cord damage can impair motor function, and in extreme cases, result in some form of paralysis. Spinal cord injury victims frequently undergo extensive medical treatment and ongoing physical therapy.
- Chemical burns: If a truck is carrying hazardous material, the falling cargo can expose motorists to severe chemical burns. In extreme cases, a vehicle can catch fire with the motorist still inside. Chemical burns can lead to chronic pain, extensive scarring, and disfigurement.
- Bone and muscle damage: Falling cargo can crush nearby vehicles, severely injuring the occupants. Crushing injuries can include broken bones, soft tissue damage, and organ damage. Also, these injuries can cause significantly restricted blood flow, sometimes requiring limbs to be amputated. Bone, muscle, and organ damage can result in chronic pain and discomfort.
What Should You Do If Falling Cargo Hits Your Vehicle?
If your vehicle is hit by falling cargo from a truck, call 911 immediately if you can do so. Wait for first responders to arrive on the scene, and follow any instructions law enforcement and paramedics give you.
If you can, observe the truck and its cargo to determine:
- What did the truck look like?
- What was the truck’s license plate number?
- Did it have a flatbed or a trailer?
- What type of cargo was it carrying?
- Did the driver stop to help following the accident?
- Was there a company logo on the truck?
Any information you can gather is helpful. Law enforcement might ask for this information at the accident scene when preparing the police report to document details of the crash. If you decide to retain a lawyer, they will likely also ask you for this information.
If you have automobile insurance, you should contact your insurance provider to report the incident. Some insurance companies provide upfront funding to help get your car back in working order. Other insurance companies may provide helpful information about the next steps to pursue legal action or additional compensation.
What Should You Do If Falling Cargo Hits Another Vehicle?
If falling cargo from a truck hits a nearby vehicle, call 911 immediately. Report any obstacles in the road, and move away from the truck. If you are in a position to do so, take note of the truck’s cargo. Any information you can provide to both the accident victim and law enforcement is helpful.
You might consider helping the accident victim if you can safely do so. Keep in mind that there may be additional debris on the road, including flammable materials. Also, if the accident victim is severely hurt, any movement can worsen their injuries. It’s best to wait for medical and law enforcement personnel to arrive at the scene. They have extensive training and experience to respond appropriately to these types of accidents.
If the accident victim contacts their insurance company regarding the accident and provides your information, you may receive a call from them seeking a witness account of the accident. Similarly, if an accident victim retains an attorney, the attorney may have questions about the incident. You might need to write a statement detailing your recall of the accident.
What Should You Do if Falling Cargo Injures You?
If falling cargo from a truck severely injures you, you cannot always exit your vehicle. Start by seeking medical attention if you can do so. Keep in mind that severe brain and spinal cord injuries can worsen with sudden movements. Also, note that certain injuries, including chest contusions and spinal trauma, might not show immediate symptoms. You want to use caution to avoid worsening your injuries.
If you receive medical treatment following the incident, keep records of your medical bills and scans. Keeping track of your expenses and diagnoses can be helpful if you decide to pursue legal action.
If you have automobile insurance, you should contact your insurance provider to report the incident.
Federal Regulations for Truck Cargo
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the trucking industry and requires that truck drivers secure loads. Per FMCSA regulations, truck drivers must ensure proper and safe securing of cargo and check that trucks are not overloaded. The FMCSA mandates truck drivers use specific equipment depending on the cargo the truck will carry. For example, truck drivers must secure logs and boulders differently than metal coils and wood. Equipment to secure loads can include chains, webbing, ropes, and other materials to support and protect the cargo.
The FMCSA provides minimum standards for specific equipment based on testing. The administrative department publishes a truck driver’s guide to cargo securement with information about how specific cargo needs securing. Truck drivers are responsible for inspecting their loads to ensure they are correctly loaded and secured.
To ensure FMCSA regulations are complied with, truck drivers should frequently consult the FMCSA truck driver’s guide.
Additionally, FMCSA rules require trucking companies to train truck drivers on proper techniques for loading and securing cargo. If commercial trucking companies fail to implement these training protocols, they violate federal law and can be liable for accidents caused by unsecured or improperly loaded cargo.
Commercial trucking companies and drivers are also subject to state and local trucking regulations. If trucking companies and truck drivers fail to abide by government directives, they put motorists at extreme risk.
Who’s Responsible for Falling Cargo?
If cargo falls off a truck and causes injury or death, the truck driver, the shipping company, the truck loader, and the trucking company can all be liable for the falling cargo. If the truck loader used faulty equipment to load the cargo onto the truck, the equipment manufacturers might also face liability.
Most truckers, trucking companies, and equipment manufacturers carry commercial insurance policies. These policies typically cover claims for accidents caused by falling cargo, but this insurance coverage does not necessarily preclude accident victims from pursuing legal action against these parties. A truck accident attorney can help you better understand how insurance policies apply to truck accident and wrongful death lawsuits.
Available Remedies if Falling Cargo Caused You or Your Loved One Harm
In truck accident cases, many accident victims can recover substantial monetary damages. Compensation for your injuries can include past medical bills, lost wages due to long-term job absence or loss, ongoing and future medical care, pain and suffering, and mental and emotional trauma.
In collisions involving falling truck cargo, accident victims can pursue legal action against the individual truck driver, the trucking company, and third parties who assisted in scheduling the delivery and loading the cargo onto the truck. Pursuing legal action against multiple parties can potentially result in a more significant payout for your injuries.
If falling cargo caused an accident that killed someone you love, a wrongful death claim might help you recover monetary damages for your lost family member’s medical expenses, funeral costs, and the loss of financial and emotional support.
Do You Need an Attorney?
If cargo falling off of a truck caused an accident that injured you or killed a loved one, a truck accident attorney can help you receive the compensation you deserve. A truck accident attorney can assist with investigating your accident, preparing your legal claim, interpreting complex legal concepts and jargon, and evaluating potential settlements. A truck accident attorney can also help gather evidence that strengthens your case, including medical bills, treatment logs, police reports, and insurance reports.
Most importantly, your lawyer can substantially increase the likelihood of receiving a favorable outcome and getting the financial compensation you and your loved ones deserve for your recovery.
Patino Law Firm
1802 N 10th St
McAllen, TX 78501