Who Is Responsible for Truck Cargo Spills?

Cargo spills are a danger to not only the truck driver, but to all vehicles and pedestrians near the truck when the spill occurs. Whether it’s lumber, boxed inventory, liquids, or any type of product – when there’s a spill, drivers near the truck may be struck by the cargo. Drivers who try to veer away from the spill may strike other cars or may veer off the road. The truck driver may lose control of the truck while the objects are falling onto the highway. Injuries can also occur while the cargo is being loaded and unloaded.

When anyone is injured or tragically killed in a truck accident, the parties that may be liable include:

  • The truck driver
  • The trucking company that hired the driver
  • The shipping company who hired the truck for shipment

Truck drivers and the trucking companies that hire them need to secure their cargo loads properly before the driver even hits the gas pedal. The Occupational Safety Health Administration (OSHA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) both have regulations on how cargo should be loaded to avoid spills from 18-wheelers and other types of large trucks.

According to the North American Transportation Association:

“OSHA regulations govern the safety and health of the workers and the responsibilities of employers to ensure their safety at the warehouse, dock, construction sites, and other places truckers go to deliver and pick up loads throughout the country. While OSHA does not regulate self-employed truckers, it does regulate workplaces to which the truckers deliver goods and the workers which receive those goods.”

Generally, it is the responsibility of the shipper to properly load cargo, secure the freight, and seal the trailer doors. Usually, the driver is not present during this part of the loading phase. This usually means that if the cargo spills or shifts while the truck is in transit, the shipper is generally the party liable for the injuries instead of the driver or the trucking company that hired the driver – unless the trucking company/driver helped with loading the freight – or unless the driver or trucking company were negligent for other reasons.

Cargo should not exceed any state or local applicable weight limits. The cargo must be secured by some method other than locking and securing the doors to the truck, per regulations.

Common causes of cargo spills

Some of the reasons cargo can spill has to do with the way it was loaded. Other reasons might be related to issues with the truck itself or the way it was operated. Cargo can spill due to:

  • Using the wrong sized-truck for the cargo
  • Driver negligence; including speeding, taking turns too quickly, or driver distraction
  • Improperly securing the freight
  • Driving too fast for weather conditions
  • Tire blowouts or engine failure
  • Potholes and other road maintenance defects
  • Overloaded trucks
  • Braking suddenly
  • Driver fatigue

FMCSA load requirements

The FMCSA has adopted new performance requirements concerning “deceleration in the forward direction, and acceleration in the rearward and lateral directions, that cargo securement systems must withstand.” All truck parts and systems must be designed to meet these performance requirements. The FMCSA rules include:

  • Proper use of tiedowns to secure the loads from coming loose or opening while in transit
  • Specific number of tiedowns depending on the size of the load
  • Articles of cargo likely to roll must be restrained
  • Load limit restrictions based on the weight of the cargo
  • Rules for special types of cargo such as logs, metal coils, intermodal containers, concrete pipe, autos, equipment and machinery, roll on-off containers, and other objects

Additional FMCSA regulations cover anchor points and other safety issues.

Liability for any truck accident depends on who did the loading, whether FMCSA and OSHA rules were met, how the truck was driven, and other factors. Liability also depends on how the cargo spilled, such as while the truck was moving without other incidents, or whether it fell when the truck rolled over or jackknifed. There are additional liability issues for hazardous spills.

Truck cargo spills are very complex cases because there are often multiple defendants and multiple injured victims. Cargo spills can easily cause traffic fatalities. If you or a loved one was injured due to any type of truck accident, the experienced Mississippi truck cargo spill lawyers at Merkel & Cocke, P.A. have the experience and resources to help you get justice. We’ve been fighting for truck accident victims since 1982.

For help now, call us at 662-799-1633 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment. We represent truck drivers, car drivers, passengers, and pedestrians who were hurt in any type of truck crash. We maintain offices in Jackson, Clarksdale, and Oxford, and represent clients throughout Mississippi.