As a truck accident attorney, I often hear the question, ‘What happens if something falls off of a semi-trailer and causes a crash, injury or death?’
The answer is complicated, as are the cases in most instances. The responsible party can be hard to pinpoint. It’s likely that several people and/or companies are responsible for the damage/injury/death from unsafe cargo. The duty to load and transport cargo—from boxes to steel pipes to construction equipment and supplies—applies to the company involved in loading the cargo, the company arranging the shipment, and both the trucking company and driver responsible for transporting the cargo.
These are some of the most complicated cases because of all of the regulations at play, the insurance policies that often overlap, and the multiple companies that are responsible for loading and transporting cargo.
There are 3 reasons why cargo should never cause an injury when transported by a semi truck.
- First, before any tractor trailer even begins driving on a public road, the driver has an independent obligation to inspect both the cargo securement (such as straps and locks) and the positioning and balance of the cargo itself. Kan. CDL Manual § 2.1.5 requires these precautions as part of the pre-trip inspection for all drivers. In other words, any potential problem should be discovered and resolved long before cargo falls off of a truck and causes an injury or death.
- Second, inspecting the cargo is a major duty for trucking companies and drivers. There is an entire chapter in the CDL handbook that deals with “Transporting Cargo Safely.” The driver and trucking company is responsible for inspecting the cargo, “recognizing overloads and poorly balanced weight,” and also ensuring the “cargo is properly secured.” Kan. CDL Manual § 3.1. This is a continuing duty, meaning repeated inspection is required. Drivers must inspect the cargo “within the first 50 miles after beginning a trip” and then after driving “for 3 hours or 150 miles.” Id. Further, there are legal weight limits that must be measured, and there are even balance and loading requirements to ensure heavier parts of the cargo are underneath the lighter parts on a trailer, and that weight is evenly distributed across the trailer axles. Kan. CDL Manual §§ 3.2.2-.4.
- Finally, the driver and trucking company are only one piece of the responsible parties. The regulations relating to cargo are extensive because of the national importance for safety with cargo transportation. There is little that even the most cautious driver can do to avoid a serious injury if a load of metal pipes or appliances fall off of a trailer at highway speeds. Companies that load cargo onto a trailer are required to do so in a reasonably safe manner under federal law. Further, there are multiple companies throughout the nation that act as brokers to connect a shipper and a trucking company for cargo transportation, and these brokers are required to exercise reasonable care in selecting safe trucking companies with solid safety records to transport cargo throughout the nation. 49 CFR § 371.
Cases involving injuries from falling cargo are some of the most complicated—and heartbreaking—trucking cases that are far too common. There is good reason that multiple people and companies bear responsibility for dangerous cargo.