Truck accidents are often devastating. Since a semi-truck pulling an empty trailer weighs approximately 35,000 pounds and up to 80,000 pounds when loaded, the sheer size and weight of a commercial truck puts the occupants of smaller vehicles at serious risk for injury in the event of a collision.
Commercial truck companies must comply with strict cargo regulations – they have precise weight limits and are required to follow certain guidelines for loading and securing the cargo they carry. Unfortunately, semi-trailer trucks all too often become involved in deadly accidents because they are overloaded, poorly loaded, or imbalanced with cargo.
On November 2, a deadly truck accident resulted in an explosion, subsequent fire, and one fatality. The collision occurred on Interstate 95 in Richmond when a 2020 Cascadia Freightliner carrying a load of over-height I-beams struck the Belvidere Road overpass before striking the septic truck. Although the driver of the Freightliner was not injured, the 36-year-old septic truck driver died after his vehicle overturned and became engulfed in flames.
Why improperly loaded truck poses a greater risk for accidents
Errors in loading cargo can be a major cause of truck rollovers. Here are some of the ways that trucks can be improperly loaded:
- Overweight loading. Each truck is given a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) by its manufacturer, which is the maximum weight the truck is allowed to carry. To encourage compliance, truck drivers are required to stop at weigh stations along their route to ensure that their cargo is within the proper weight limits. Too much cargo can raise the center of gravity or otherwise cause the load to be top heavy, making the truck prone to rolling over if a driver turns or attempts a maneuver at improperly high speeds. Overweight loading also increases the stress on the truck’s tires, increasing the likelihood of a blowout. When a tire blows out, the driver can lose control of the truck, putting vehicles to the side, in front, and behind in perilous situations. Truck tire blowouts also frequently lead to rollovers.
- Oversized loading. An oversize or wide load vehicle is generally defined as a vehicle that is carrying a load wider than eight feet, five inches – a standard truck bed width is eight feet. However, a load can also be oversized based on the weight, length, or height of the cargo. The maximum height allowed by oversize load regulations is relatively uniform across the U.S., and most states agree that an oversize load truck shouldn’t exceed 14 feet, six inches in height. According to Virginia law, no loaded or unloaded vehicle can be taller than 13 feet, six inches, and cargo cannot overhang beyond the federal limit of three feet in the front and four feet in the rear of a truck or trailer.
- Unbalanced loading. If a truck’s load is not properly balanced, the uneven distribution of weight could adversely affect the truck’s handling. The truck’s frame, tires, brakes, suspension, and axles are all put under tremendous pressure when cargo is improperly balanced, which could cause one or more of them to fail and lead to an accident. If the weight is distributed too far forward, the truck’s brakes could become overly sensitive, leading to what truckers refer to as “trailer swing,” when a trailer swings out to the side. Cargo that is distributed primarily to the rear of the trailer will sometimes take too much weight off the truck’s front tires, making handling more difficult. If too much weight is being carried on either side of the trailer, the truck is at a higher risk of rolling over when making a tight turn, or the brakes could lock up and result in a jackknife accident.
- Unsecured loading. When a load is not properly tied down, it is free to move around, which can affect the truck’s center of gravity, making it handle differently than the driver expects. An unsecured load could fly off or otherwise spill from the truck’s bed, putting vehicles behind and to the side of the truck at great risk for being hit with an object or other debris.Truckers who haul liquids must understand the “slosh and surge” effect of liquid loads. Slosh signifies the liquid running up the sides of a tanker that changes the tanker’s center of gravity, while surge means liquid shifting from front to back and then back to front when the truck is accelerating or braking.
Load size is also a factor in truck crashes and hauling a partial load can be particularly dangerous. According to FMCSA data, 63 percent of truck rollovers occur when tanks are carrying partial loads.
Common injuries associated with improperly loaded trucks
An improperly loaded truck is a severe hazard to everyone on the road, including the truck’s driver. These crashes can frequently lead to various critical injuries, such as:
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
- Severe burns
- Loss of limb
- Cervical spine injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Partial or complete paralysis
- Wrongful death
- Cuts and lacerations
- Strained or torn muscles
When truckers and trucking companies ignore the rules regarding cargo loading and someone is seriously injured as a result, the victim may file a personal injury claim to recover monetary compensation for their damages. Because truck crash claims are frequently more complex than typical injury claims, they must be handled by an attorney who is experienced with these complicated, high value cases.
At Phelan Petty, our Richmond-based truck accident lawyers understand that every truck accident claim is unique. We carefully evaluate the strengths and challenges of each case and then build effective legal arguments to pursue the fair compensation that our clients deserve. Are you looking for a truck accident lawyer who will give your case the time, attention, and resources it deserves? Call Phelan Petty today or complete our contact form to set up your free initial consultation and discuss your options with a qualified attorney today. Serving all of Virginia.
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Michael Phelan is a Virginia trial attorney who practices with a special focus on traumatic brain injury (TBI) cases, pharmaceutical and medical device claims, product liability cases, and truck accidents. Michael’s peers have consistently recognized him for his excellence as a trial lawyer, and his clients have praised him for his commitment to deep research, his outstanding communication skills, and his sincerity and dedication.