Sharing the road with big trucks poses vehicle accident hazards for everyone else on the road. Trucks have much greater mass than a normal passenger vehicle (weighing up to 80,000 lbs) and are piloted by drivers who spend many hours on the road, leading to high levels of fatigue and inattention. Another danger posed by many big trucks? Falling cargo.
Falling Cargo: Scenarios
Most of the time, truckers and the loaders responsible for securing cargo take care to ensure that cargo is loaded and secured properly. But accidents still occur. Consider some potentially hazardous scenarios that can lead to falling cargo:
- On a flatbed truck, the cargo’s straps fail. Flatbed trucks haul many large items across the country every day, from bulky construction equipment to sheds and pieces of houses. Often, this type of cargo requires careful placement and securement with straps to hold the items in place. When those straps fail, whether because they break or because the loader did not secure them properly in the first place, the lack of securement can leave the cargo off-balance. Many of the items hauled by flatbed trucks already hang over the edges of the truck. Improperly-balanced cargo may not remain on the truck if even one strap fails. Large cargo items can cause substantial hazards to everyone on the road: construction equipment may have enough mass to crush a passenger vehicle, while smaller cargo can still cause significant impact damage to other vehicles.
- The cage that holds logs in place on a logging truck comes apart. In some cases, a cage securing logs on a logging truck may have a latch that secures a door in place to make for easier loading and unloading. Failure to properly secure that latch can send everything in the cage crashing down, often all over the road. Not only do logs pose a substantial hazard for the vehicles immediately surrounding a truck, they may roll, scattering across the road and involving even more vehicles.
- Cargo shifts inside a semi-truck, causing the doors to fly open and cargo to bounce out. Semi-trucks have latches that should fully secure cargo inside the trailer. Unfortunately, if those latches fail, shifting cargo can fall out of the truck and into traffic. When confronted with falling cargo, most drivers will swerve quickly to get out of the way. Swerving drivers can cause sideswipe collisions with drivers in other lanes of traffic. Large cargo falling off the back of a truck can also lead to impact damage.
- Small items fall off the back of a truck. Many drivers may not notice or have time to react to small items blowing off the back of a truck. If, for example, a garbage bag falls off the back of a garbage truck, a passenger vehicle following closely behind might not have room to get out of the way. While the garbage bag likely does not have enough mass to cause impact damage, it may contain sharp items. When the following car’s tires hit the bag, those sharp items could cause a tire blowout.
Big truck drivers may not even notice falling cargo as it slips off the truck. As a result, they may not take action to prevent further damage. While truck drivers usually notice significant accidents behind them, they may not understand the cause of the accident immediately.
Common Injuries From Falling Cargo
Falling cargo can cause a wide range of accidents and, therefore, a wide range of potential injuries. Some common injuries include:
Traumatic brain injuries. Any type of collision can cause traumatic brain injuries. A victim’s head often moves forward rapidly, striking the seat in front of them, the steering wheel, or the dashboard. The victim’s head may also be struck by cargo flying through the windshield or objects flying around inside the car, as frequently happens in rollover accidents. Traumatic brain injuries can create significant challenges for the victim, including:
- Confusion and disorientation;
- Changes in sensory perception, including altered vision, hearing, or perception of heat, and cold;
- Memory issues;
- Sleep disturbances;
- Processing challenges;
- Difficulty maintaining attention;
- Personality changes; and
- Severe mood swings.
Spinal cord injury. During many falling cargo accidents, the victims may suffer significant spinal cord damage when their neck or body snaps forward, then backward, due to the abrupt movement of their vehicle. Depending on the type of cargo that falls off the truck, crushing damage or a direct injury to the spinal cord can also result. Spinal cord damage can leave a victim paralyzed below the site of the injury or, in the case of an incomplete injury, lead to decreased movement and sensation below the injury. Many victims of spinal cord damage also suffer decreased bowel, bladder, and sexual function.
Crushing damage. When large cargo falls off of a truck, crushing a following passenger vehicle, it can severely injure the occupants. Crushing damage can cause broken bones, soft tissue damage, or organ damage. In some cases, crushing damage may restrict blood flow to the impacted area so severely that the affected limb must be amputated after the tissue dies. Doctors may also decide to remove crushed limbs to improve the overall quality of life for the patient.
Fire, heat, and chemical burns. When a truck causes an accident, the accident can lead to a fire in the impacted vehicle. Some trucks carry hazardous cargo which, when it falls, can cause chemical burns. Other times, the victim’s car may catch on fire due to the force of the collision or the location of the impact. Burns can cause severe pain, scarring, and disfigurement. Some burn victims lose range of motion in the affected area of their body as a result of scarring.
How Can You Prevent Falling Cargo Accidents?
When properly secured, a truck’s cargo stays put as the truck moves. You may pass dozens of trucks on your daily commute without ever blinking an eye, assuming that the truck’s cargo will remain exactly where it should. Unfortunately, falling cargo accidents can happen in the blink of an eye. Follow these steps to keep yourself safer:
- Take a look at the truck’s cargo as you pass by. If you notice loose straps or improperly secured cargo, or if you see the rear door on the trailer open, try to signal the truck driver and let them know about the problem. If you do see loose cargo or signs that cargo may fall, get out of the way. Do not ride alongside or immediately behind a truck that appears to have loose cargo, even if that means you must get off the road.
- Call the police if you cannot signal the driver. Note the truck’s license plate and a basic description of the truck, then call non-emergency services. Let them know that you observed a potential problem with the truck’s cargo. The dispatcher can then send an officer to flag the truck driver down and let them know about the potential problem.
- Do not travel in a truck’s blind spot. Most of the danger zones for falling cargo, especially with flatbed trucks, are also the truck driver’s blind spots; areas where the truck driver cannot see vehicles that travel on the road alongside the truck. Avoid spending any extended period of time in the truck driver’s blind spots or alongside the trailer, and do not travel directly behind the truck, where the truck driver cannot see you. Avoiding these spots will give you more room to maneuver if you do notice cargo starting to fall from the back of the truck.
- Back off further if you notice an open door or shifting cargo. If you notice cargo moving around on a big truck, especially if you see an open door on a semi or another problem that looks like it could result in falling cargo, get as far away from the rear of the truck as possible. Do not attempt to pass a flatbed truck or logging truck if you notice unstable cargo in immediate danger of falling. Stop your vehicle if necessary to get out of the way.
- Do not get between a big truck and it’s escort vehicles. Many big trucks, especially those carrying oversized cargo, have escort vehicles. Those vehicles may carry poles to help judge the size of bridges and keep cars out of the lanes immediately surrounding the big truck. A truck carrying oversized cargo may pose an increased risk of falling cargo accidents. Escort vehicles help protect other drivers on the road and make it easier for the truck driver to carry the load safely.
What Should You Do After a Falling Cargo Accident?
If you are hit by falling cargo, start by seeking medical attention. If you have severe injuries, you may not be able to leave your vehicle. Wait for an ambulance to arrive, rather than trying to move around the scene of the accident. Severe injuries can become worse if you move your body. Keep in mind that injuries like chest contusions, traumatic brain injury, and spinal cord damage may not show immediate symptoms, so take steps to avoid worsening these types of injuries if possible. Next, follow these steps:
- Take note of the truck and its cargo. Did the truck driver stop? If the driver did not notice their cargo falling, the truck driver may not recognize that an accident occurred or that their cargo caused the accident. If you can, make a note of a description of the truck. Try to get a picture of the license plate or the numbers that identify the truck within its fleet. If the driver did not stop, make a note of any descriptive information about the truck that might help police track down the driver. Knowing what cargo the truck hauled can make it easier to determine what truck lost cargo and caused the accident.
- Follow all instructions given by first responders. While you should collect evidence at the accident scene if possible, including photos of the truck, your vehicle, your injuries, and the truck’s cargo, be sure to follow all instructions given to you by first responders. Police officers may instruct you to move away from the immediate scene of the accident to a safe location, to move your vehicle to allow safe passage for other drivers on the road, or to stay out of the way while they talk to witnesses. Follow those instructions, even though you may want to collect information for yourself. Also follow any instructions given to you by paramedics, who have medical training designed to keep you safe and prevent further injury after an accident.
- Keep track of medical records and scans. If you suffered injuries in a falling cargo accident, you may need to undergo medical tests and scans. Keep track of all medically-related information to help you provide evidence concerning your injuries and your expenses later on.
- Get in touch with your auto insurance company. Notify your auto insurance company about the accident, especially if the accident totaled your vehicle. Your insurance company may offer you some idea of how to proceed. Depending on your insurance policy, your company may also provide funds that will get your car running again quickly, then seek reimbursement from the truck driver’s insurance company.
- Contact an attorney. Any time you suffer injuries in a truck accident, including a falling cargo accident, you should contact an attorney to learn more about how to file a personal injury claim, what you should include in your personal injury claim, and how much compensation you should expect following your accident. Working with an attorney can often increase the compensation you receive, whether your attorney negotiates with the insurance company or helps you take your case to court.
If you suffered injuries in a falling cargo accident, you may need legal advice as soon as possible. The sooner you contact an attorney, the sooner that attorney can start working on your behalf, providing the legal support you need to seek compensation for your injuries.