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What do lawyers handling load shift truck accident cases need to know?

Written by Steve Gursten Posted September 19th, 2014

Cargo loads can cause a serious roll-over or accident because of shifting weight; often the trucker is not at fault and lawyers should be aware of the exception

truck load shift

Roll-over cases and cases where the truck is involved in a serious accident because of a cargo load shift usually involve very serious injuries. But how do the regulations work to create, or protect, motor carriers from liability? And what issues should a lawyer be investigating if he or she gets a call from a truck driver who has been terribly injured in a load shift-type accident?

We’ve touched on cargo cases a few times before in this legal blog. Every experienced attorney who litigates truck wreck cases should know — and every new  attorney just starting these difficult cases needs to learn — there are specific rules in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) which govern the safe loading and transport of cargo.

We previously discussed the responsibilities of a truck driver when hauling cargo. § 392.9 imposes an inspection requirement on the trucker. He must inspect the cargo and make sure it’s compliant with the applicable regulations before hauling the load. This may be done as part of the pre-trip inspection.

However, there’s an  exception to this rule which exempts a trucker from inspecting or otherwise being liable for a semi-truck’s cargo. A trucker is not liable to inspect the load before hauling it when the cargo is a sealed load.

That’s right. Under §392.9(b)(4), a truck driver is not liable for sealed loads. Often, investigating police officers who are not familiar with truck safety regulations and who are confronted with a shifting load crash – a crash where the cargo shifts and causes a serious accident, do not understand this.  As such, it’s not uncommon for a police report that finds the trucker improperly at fault.

And too often these days, many trucking companies have rapid response teams of lawyers, accident reconstructionists, investigators and experts who are all-too-happy to meet with the police offer and help him write an accident report to throw the trucker under the bus.

The rush to blame the trucker is because many load-shifting crashes result in single truck accidents. Companies are often protected from tort lawsuits, and injured drivers are limited to workers’ compensation in many instances. Unfortunately, many truck drivers themselves are seriously hurt or killed, and unable to explain their side of the story – or the relevant federal regs – to the police officer at the scene of the crash.

As a truck accident lawyer, it’s your job to understand these regulations. You may be able to help a truck driver who has been seriously injured from a shifting load, especially if he or she is hauling a sealed load.

Sealed load cases are more like hidden booby traps, where the trucker is helpless to protect himself against the dangers because he or she cannot inspect the load.

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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