Though the exact number of accidents that occur because of falling cargo each year is unknown, statistics suggest that road debris is a factor in approximately 50,700 police-reported accidents annually and responsible for nearly 10,000 injuries and 125 deaths. Most road debris accidents are the result of cargo that falls directly from moving vehicles, and, in particular, cargo trucks. The term “cargo truck” encompasses several types of big-rigs, including moving trucks. Due to several unique factors — including the fact that many movers load, secure and drive the trucks themselves — accidents due to lost moving truck cargo occur all too frequently. When they do, the consequences can be devastating. If you know this all too well, you may wonder if you can file a legal claim for compensation and, if so, against whom. The team at Jason Stone Injury Lawyers can help you explore your legal options, build a strong case and assert your rights to a maximum recovery.
Dangers of Improperly Secured Cargo
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has hundreds of rules regarding the proper way to secure cargo for transport. In fact, you can find the Guiding Principles of Cargo Securement in its 141-page handbook. Though shippers and drivers alike must familiarize themselves with all the rules, the gist of the publication is as follows: Cargo that is to be transported on the roadways must remain secured on or within the transporting vehicle under all normal driving conditions and during reactions to all emergency situations. The rules apply to all cargo, including general freight. Moreover, the FMCSA mandates that certain conditions exist before a driver can operate a commercial truck or before a carrier may permit a driver to operate a commercial truck. Among those conditions include the proper distribution and securement of all truck cargo and the proper securement of all the truck’s equipment, including tailgate, tarpaulins, doors, spare tires and other securing equipment. If a moving truck driver or carrier fails to follow the FMCSA’s strict securement guidelines, he or she unwittingly creates several hazards. Those include the following:
- The increased risk that cargo will fall off the truck and either hit oncoming traffic directly or create road debris that interferes with traffic flow and eventually causes an accident
- The increased risk of a roll-over due to uneven weight distribution, shifting cargo or overload
- The increased risk of a tire blowout due to overloading
Because of the very real dangers that improperly secured cargo presents, even DIY movers have a responsibility to abide by the FMSCA’s cargo securement guidelines.
Causes of Items Falling From Moving Trucks
Despite strict guidelines for securing cargo on moving trucks and other commercial vehicles, falling cargo accidents continue to happen all too frequently. While negligence is the main contributing factor in each of these accidents, the most common secondary causes are as follows:
- Shifting Cargo: Many of the FMSCA’s rules have to do with properly distributing cargo so as to prevent shifting during transport. If movers improperly load a truck, items may shift during transport and increase the truck’s risk of rolling over or increase the risk that items will fall out of the back.
- Broken or Inadequate Tie-Downs: The FMSCA has strict rules in place regarding how many tie-downs cargo haulers must use for so many pounds of cargo. Moreover, the administration also requires drivers to stop periodically to check that the tie-downs remain secure. Unfortunately, few carriers follow those rules, which often results in cargo coming loose during transport and, eventually, falling off.
- Improper Stacking: When using an open trailer to move items, carriers must keep cargo loads low so as to prevent items from falling off during transport. Unfortunately, many companies and individuals try to reduce the number of trips they have to make by overloading their trailers. This creates the increased risk that items will fall off when the driver performs certain maneuvers, such as making a turn, or when a gust of wind comes through.
The FMSCA has strict rules in place to prevent falling cargo accidents. If these types of accidents occur regardless, it is likely due to negligence on behalf of one or several parties.
Who Can Be Held Accountable for Damages Caused by Falling Cargo?
Who is liable for accidents caused by lost items from moving trucks depends on several factors, including who did the loading, who was driving and whether the truck is a commercial or private vehicle. In most cases, however, liability for lost cargo may fall to one or several of the following parties:
- The Driver: In almost all lost-cargo accident cases, the driver will assume some level of responsibility for damages. Regardless of who loaded the moving truck, the driver has an obligation to perform regular checks throughout a trip to ensure the cargo is secure.
- The Trucking Company: Due to the theory of vicarious liability, the trucking company may assume liability for damages caused by fallen cargo, even if it had little to nothing to do with the actual loading or transporting of said cargo.
- The Loading Company: If the trucking company and loading company are not one and the same, the team that loaded the truck may be at-fault for failing to properly secure the cargo or for overloading the truck.
- The Truck Manufacturer: If the cargo fell off the truck because of a broken tailgate, loose hinge, etc., the truck’s manufacturer may assume some level of fault. However, unless the defect is inherent, the trucking company will likely share liability for failing to properly maintain the vehicle.
How To Hold the At-Fault Party Accountable
If you or a loved one was involved in an accident due to falling cargo, you can file a claim for damages based on two legal theories: Negligence and Res Ipsa Loquitur.
Negligence is the main theory under which most auto accident victims recover compensation. To establish negligence, you must prove that the driver owed you a duty of care (which he or she does by virtue of getting behind the wheel), that he or she breached said duty, that the breach of duty was the proximate cause of the fallen object accident and that the accident caused you actual damages.
Res Ipsa Loquitur
In Latin, Res Ipsa Loquitur means, “the thing speaks for itself.” When applied to a personal injury case, the phrase essentially means that an accident would not have occurred unless an actor was negligent. This theory frequently applies in fallen object accident cases, as most courts agree that haulers, carriers and drivers can prevent objects from falling from their vehicles with reasonable care and attention. For this theory to apply in your case, you must establish that the defendant had full control of the action or event that lead to your accident and that you had zero control.
Work With an Experienced Falling Cargo Accident Attorney
Accident cases that arise from fallen cargo are tricky in and of themselves. When the offending vehicle in question was a moving truck, however, the situation may become more complicated, as several unique factors may come into play. Attorney Jason Stone and his team are intimately familiar with these factors and how they may affect your case. We also know what steps to take to identify the at-fault parties, prove fault and recover the maximum amount of compensation on your behalf. Let Jason Stone Injury Lawyers help you recover and get your life back — schedule your initial consultation today. There is no obligation, just information.
Sources: AAA Foundation:
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:
Legal Information Institute: