What happens when a truck is improperly loaded or negligently secured? Who bears commercial vehicle liability when an accident occurs? Overloading or improperly loading a vehicle can make the vehicle unstable which can lead to loss of control. When this happens, the vehicle can careen off the road or into nearby vehicles. When an accident is caused by overloading, liability can fall on the driver, the carrier, the consignor, and/or those who were responsible for loading and properly securing the cargo. I had a case several years ago where I represented a truck driver who had stopped. As he was unloading the back doors, the 2000 pound container that was improperly secured fell out hitting him in the head. He ended up having two separate cases, one case for workers' compensation and the second case against the company that did not properly secure the loaded property. He was able to get money for his traumatic brain injury which is more than what work comp would bring.
There are nearly 12.1 million semi-trucks and buses traveling down American roads. These vehicles move more than 11 billion tons of cargo each year. It is a dangerous process that leads to more than 500,000 accidents and a fatality rate of 1.1 per 100,000,000 miles driven. In 2016, there were 3,642 accidents involving commercial vehicles in Kansas. These caused 74 fatalities and 934 injuries. This was an increase over the 69 fatalities and 872 injuries that were reported in 2015. It is estimated that approximately 5% of all large vehicle accidents are caused by overloading. These statistics don't take into account the effect of frequent overloading that can damage the vehicle's tires, suspension, transmission, and other components. Many accidents attributed to the failure of these components and systems are the result of the cumulative damage sustained during prior trips when the vehicle was overloaded.
Commercial vehicle drivers are required to adhere to state and federal regulations that govern vehicle loading limits. The current weight limit for most commercial vehicles is 80,000 lbs. It is set at 20,000 lbs. for single axle vehicles and for vehicles with tandem axles the limit is 32,000 lbs. Loading a vehicle beyond these limits can have serious consequences that can include broken axles, tire blowouts, and damage to suspension systems. If these critical events happen while the vehicle is traveling down the road, they can cause the driver to lose control over the vehicle, cause the vehicle to overturn, or cause the truck and the trailers it is hauling to jackknife into one another.
In 2016, state and federal inspectors conducted just over 2.3 million roadside inspections that included checking the vehicle's weight and ensuring compliance with OEM recommendations as well as state and federal regulations. Of the total number of inspections, nearly 20% of vehicles were in violation of established safety standards, including vehicle loading standards and weight limits. Enforcement is critical and studies conducted in the early 2000's showed that weight violations in high enforcement areas were between 1-11.9%, while in low enforcement areas, these rates rose to between 12-34%.
Commercial vehicle liability for accidents involving overloaded vehicles is often shared by several parties. Liability can fall upon the driver for failing to properly assess the weight and disposition of the cargo to be transported. It can fall upon the freight company for negligently overloading the vehicle, or it may even fall upon the consignor of the load for deliberately misquoting the weight of the cargo to be transported. These cases are normally called negligent securement cases.
Brad Pistotnik Law represents clients in Wichita, Garden City, Dodge City, Liberal, Satanta, Ulysses, Goodland, Colby, Wellington, Kingman, Pratt, Great Bend, Topeka, Lawrence, Hays, Overland Park, Salina, Hutchinson, Shawnee, Hays, Dodge City, Pittsburg, and elsewhere in Kansas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Nebraska, Missouri, Texas and Florida who are involved in accidents with commercial motor vehicles. When it comes to commercial vehicle liability, we pursue compensation from those who were responsible for causing accidents that inflict personal injuries, property damage, and wrongful deaths on other motorists and pedestrians.
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