About 3,000 truck accidents happen every year as a result of falling, spilling, or shifting cargo. Around 1,000 of these result in an injury or death to other motorists sharing the road.

These types of truck accidents make up less than 1% of all truck accidents in the U.S.—but they can be devastating. When a truck’s cargo falls or spills onto the road, it can cause multi-vehicle accidents.

Here are the vital facts you should know about truck accidents caused by falling, spilling, or shifting cargo, along with a guide to seeking compensation for injuries from these accidents.

What are Common Causes of Falling Cargo Truck Accidents?

Falling cargo truck accidents can have many causes. Some of the most common include:

Improper Loading

Truck loading is a science and an art. Loaders must distribute the weight along the length, width, and height of the trailer. But the right way to distribute the weight depends on the size of the trailer and the location of its axles.

If a loader distributes the weight incorrectly, a driver may have difficulty controlling the truck or the trailer. Loss of control could lead to fishtailing, oversteering, or under-braking. 

The likelihood of cargo spilling onto the road increases when a driver loses control of their truck or trailer.

Unsecured or Improperly Secured Loads

Unsecured or improperly secured loads pose many risks to truck drivers and other motorists on the road.

Load Shifting

An improperly secured load can shift during transport, causing the truck to become imbalanced. An imbalanced truck is more likely to roll over on turns. This can result in spilled cargo and an overturned truck and trailer.

Flying or Falling Cargo

Unsecured cargo can fall or spill onto the roadway. For example, a truck carrying loose material, such as gravel, can create a cloud of flying rocks behind the vehicle if the cargo area does not have a cover.

Broken Tie-Downs and Restraints

Tie-downs and restraints need to be strong enough to hold the cargo during transit. Damaged tie-downs and restraints can break, sending cargo onto the road.

Overloading

Engineers design trucks, trailers, road surfaces, bridges, and overpasses with specific load weights, lengths, and heights in mind. If loaders overfill the trailer, any of these designs can fail.

The truck driver may lose control of the truck and trailer, spilling cargo into the path of oncoming cars. The trailer may break, sending trailer parts and cargo into the road.

Roads, bridges, and overpasses may crack, causing a collapse. Bridges and overpasses can also knock cargo off a trailer when it is stacked too high.

Damaged Vehicles

Bad tires, a broken suspension, and damaged braking or steering systems can lead to a loss of control over the truck and its load—even if the load is distributed and secured properly.

What are the Dangers of Cargo Falling Accidents?

Falling, spilling, and shifting cargo can pose many dangers to vehicles, including:

Cargo Falling onto Vehicles

When cargo falls or spills, it can fall onto vehicles and cause damage. The people inside of the disabled vehicle can suffer injuries in the original accident or in a chain-reaction accident when the disabled vehicle collides with another vehicle.

Creating Road Hazards

Cargo on the road can create a road hazard. Vehicles can collide with objects on the road; drivers may also swerve or brake, causing vehicles to collide with each other as they try to avoid colliding with the object.

Additionally, liquid cargo can spill onto roads, making them slick or sticky. Cars driving through these spills can lose control and collide with the truck or other vehicles.

Overturning onto the Road

As cargo falls, spills, or shifts, the trailer can get thrown off balance. The unbalanced truck and trailer can overturn, blocking traffic. Vehicles may collide with the overturned truck. They may also collide with each other as they try to avoid the overturned truck.

What are the Types of Regulated Cargo?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates trucking in the U.S. 

This governing body creates general rules that apply to all cargo and specific rules for cargo it deems to be particularly risky, including:

  • Hazardous materials
  • Logs
  • Lumber and building products
  • Metal coils
  • Paper rolls
  • Concrete pipes
  • Intermodal containers
  • Automobiles
  • Heavy vehicles, equipment, and machinery
  • Crushed vehicles
  • Roll-on/roll-off or hook-lift containers
  • Large boulders

Federal regulations place restrictions on the weight of the cargo and the ways in which shippers should secure it.

Texas also regulates the weight, length, and height of cargo carriers. Texas law allows cities and counties to pass additional regulations that limit the size and weight of trailers that pass through their boundaries.

Determining Responsibility for Falling Cargo Truck Accidents

The U.S. government regulates cargo loading for all carriers that operate in interstate commerce. This covers virtually all freight companies. 

The FMCSA defines interstate commerce to include:

  • Transportation from one state to a different state or country
  • Transportation between two places in the same state that passes through another state
  • Transportation between two places in the same state in a continuation of commerce originating or ending in another state or country

Shippers, trucking companies, and truckers share responsibility for complying with the FMCSA’s cargo loading rules.

After a cargo loading accident, the FMCSA will investigate whether:

  •  the shippers loaded the cargo correctly
  • the trucking company kept the truck and trailer in proper operating condition, and 
  • the truck driver inspected the load before transporting it. 

If one or more of these entities failed to fulfill their duties, the FMCSA could punish them for violating the cargo loading regulations.

Proving Liability in Court

If the FMCSA finds that a regulatory violation occurred, you may have an easier time settling or litigating an injury claim. Texas recognizes the doctrine of negligence per se. Under this doctrine, the violation of a safety regulation or statute creates a rebuttable presumption that the violator acted negligently.

This removes the need to prove that the defendant owed you a duty of care and that they breached that duty. Instead, you only need to prove your injuries and show that the violation caused them. 

If you prove these elements, you can recover compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering