Each year in the U.S. over 15 million trucks move nearly a trillion dollars of manufactured and retail goods within the United States, and between the United States, Mexico, and Canada. With so many trucks on the road, collisions with passenger vehicles are bound to happen, and when they do, they can be catastrophic, resulting in serious injury to the occupants of the car and property damage to their vehicles.
But collisions aren’t the only way that big trucks can cause harm to the other vehicles on the road. When their cargo falls off of their trailer or a tanker’s load spills, it can cause major road hazards. Even the most diligent drivers are rarely prepared for the cargo on trucks to come hurtling their way, and responding to the situation can be nearly impossible.
If you were injured in a falling cargo accident, it’s most likely a serious injury that can cause physical, financial, and emotional pain that comes with a steep price tag—a price tag you can almost certainly never pay in full.
But there is hope for people in your situation. California law allows you to seek monetary compensation (damages) from the truck driver who caused your accident and injuries through a personal injury lawsuit.
But you don’t have forever to file. The law gives you a short two years from the date of your accident to get your lawsuit filed. This is known as the statute of limitations, and is a hard and fast deadline. Filing a suit after the statute of limitations has expired will cause your lawsuit to be dismissed (tossed out), regardless of how valid your legal claims are or how severe your damages, and you will be left with no legal method of receiving the damages you deserve for your injuries.
Reaching out to a California truck accident attorney as soon as possible can keep this from happening.
Why Do Falling Cargo Accidents Happen?
Falling cargo accidents nearly always happen due to negligence on the part of the driver, or those who are responsible for maintenance of the trucks.
Drivers have the responsibility to inspect and their trucks and address any maintenance issues before getting on the road. Rushing or entirely skipping a maintenance procedure can cause equipment to fail. The most common result of poor maintenance is tire blowouts. Blowouts occur because tire pressure is too low or because there is insufficient tread on the tires.
Blowouts can cause truckers to lose control of their vehicles, which can make them behave in unexpected, erratic, and unsafe ways. In some blowout situations, the tires come completely off the wheels of the truck, causing them to fly into the air and create dangerous obstacles for other drivers on the road.
Truck inspection should be specifically tailored to the type of truck being driven. Securing cargo occurs in several ways, such as tie-downs, webbing, steel traps, or wedges. When the equipment is improper for the cargo it is securing or is worn out, cargo can be spilled on the road and can cause dangerous hazards. Drivers should spot this kind of faulty equipment during inspection, but, unfortunately, they do not always do so.
To allow for more regulated braking, smooth turning, and safe acceleration, truck loads should be balanced across the trailer. If cargo isn’t balanced right, it becomes more difficult to make turns precisely and lengthens the distance necessary to come to complete stops. It can also cause sputtering upon acceleration. If a truck is not balanced properly, the load can fall off during turns, or cause the truck to jackknife in the middle of the road.
Although regulations govern how trucks should be stacked, they are not always followed. Unscrupulous fleet companies may decide to overload trucks by stacking them too high to save on the number of trips required to transport it, which reduces the number of trucks and the amount of labor necessary to move the cargo from point A to point B. The industry is heavily deadline-driven, and there is pressure to meet strict deadlines. Loads that are stacked too high are susceptible to high winds and can make a truck unable to pass under certain overpasses. Improper loads can also throw off the truck’s balance, which makes turning dangerous.
Regulation of Cargo Loads
The trucking industry is regulated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which establishes the rules driver and trucking companies are required to follow. The rules intend to ensure the safe transportation of goods on our roads, and the safety of the other drivers and vehicles they encounter.
The FMCSA has set forth specific regulations that deal with cargo trucks, which attempt to take into account the unique types of cargo typically transported by them.
The basic requirements of FMCSA require that cargo be loaded to be in such a way as to withstand acceleration, turning, and stopping, without coming loose. The guidelines provide the minimum number of tie-downs based upon cargo weight.
In addition to the general guidelines, cargo truckers must comply with the regulations established for specific types of cargo. They include:
- Heavy vehicles, equipment, and machinery
- Paper rolls and metal coils
- Concrete pipes
- Trucks, vans, and automobiles
- Lumber and other building products
- Large boulders
- Roll-on/roll-off or hook-lift containers
Responsibility for Adhering to the Regulations
Determining who is actually responsible for ensuring that FMCSA regulations are followed and cargo is properly secured can get complicated, simply because in many cases, multiple individuals employed by multiple different companies and entities are likely to come into contact with the load.
Determining who was negligent in securing the cargo and actually caused the accident can require evaluating who touched the load, and the extent of their involvement in securing it. A driver may start off at a warehouse in one place with a fairly small load that was loaded by the people there, then stop at another warehouse down the road where additional cargo is added and secured by different individuals employed by a different company.
This process may repeat several times on a driver’s single trip. Ultimately, the responsibility for the safety of the cargo falls on the trucker, but when multiple people are involved, it’s almost a guarantee that all of the parties involved will attempt to place the blame on the others.
What You Should Do if You are Injured in a Falling Cargo Accident
Depending on the extent of your damages, it may be difficult to do some of the things below, but it is important that you do them as soon as possible, or find someone you trust to do them on your behalf.
Speak With a Truck Accident Attorney
You may wonder if you actually need an attorney to help you file and resolve your truck accident lawsuit. These lawsuits are complicated and, depending on the circumstances, may involve multiple parties, including the driver and his employer, warehouse companies and their employees, and insurance companies for all of the individual parties.
It is almost certain that all of the other parties involved in your suit will have attorneys. In fact, insurance companies employ entire teams of lawyers whose job it is to see that their employers pay you as little as possible. Trucking and warehouse companies also have corporate attorneys who deal with these kinds of suits on a regular basis.
Attempting to go up against experienced attorneys who are looking out only for the best interests of their employers as a lay person is extremely challenging. An experienced truck accident lawyer, on the other hand, will know the law, and can step in and fight hard on your behalf for every cent of damages you deserve.
Beyond the skills of an experienced attorney, your case may likely require a team of other legal professionals. An investigator is invaluable in conducting interviews with witnesses and defendants, as well as reviewing accident reports. Paralegals and legal secretaries take care of the behind-the-scenes, yet critically important, administrative requirements of your lawsuit, including ensuring that your pleadings are filed within court-established timelines and in accordance with court–specific procedures and requirements.
Don’t make the mistake of handling a complex lawsuit alone. It’s wise to contact an experienced attorney right away to ensure that you do not miss the two-year statute of limitations. That time can pass quickly when you are focused on healing from your injuries.
File Your Insurance Claims
File your auto and health insurance claims as soon as possible. Many companies have deadlines by which you have to file your claim after your accident, and you want to make sure that you don’t miss out on any compensation your policy provides. Many doctor offices will do this on your behalf, but if you have paid for medications, or medical equipment or devices, the burden of submitting proof of those costs will likely fall squarely on your shoulders.
To receive compensation for costs you have incurred, you have to prove that you actually incurred them. Although opening bills can be stressful and overwhelming, do it anyway. Tuck them away in a file so that they are readily available when you need to present them. Be sure to keep track of costs associated with your ambulance transportation and initial hospital stay, as well as those for follow up doctor’s appointments or surgeries, and any therapy (physical, occupational, speech, or mental health) and rehabilitation you receive. If you have any doubts about whether to keep a bill, err on the side of caution and save it.
Even if you have “good” insurance, you may still be left holding the bag for significant medical costs after you pay deductibles, co-pays, and any coinsurance. Those without insurance are, quite unfortunately, responsible for every dollar of treatment they receive.
You can also recover the cost of any wage loss you suffer as a result of your accident. Be sure to document your time away from work as well as any tips, retirement contributions, or commissions your missed work caused you to lose. If you are salaried, tracking the number of days you miss is sufficient, but if you are an hourly employee, you will need to keep track of every hour of work your injuries cause you to miss.
A Truck Accident Attorney Can Help
If you were injured in a falling cargo truck accident, contact an experienced California falling cargo truck attorney as soon as possible. Trucking accident claims are often complex cases, and a trusted attorney can bring their experience negotiating and trying falling cargo truck accident suits, a deep understanding of the laws applicable to personal injury lawsuits, the rules of evidence, and an understanding of the court procedures in the jurisdictions where they practice.
More importantly, an attorney can serve as an advocate for you and your loved ones through every stage of the process; you may be dealing with serious injuries, therapies, missed work, and an inability to maintain normal life responsibilities from before the incident.
Having someone in your corner to serve your best interests when dealing with insurance companies, at-fault parties, and the court system allows you the time, freedom, and focus to concentrate on what really matters: recovering from your accident, and returning to the most normal, productive life possible.
If you have additional questions regarding a falling cargo accident, speak with an experienced truck accident attorney right away.