Written by attorney Bryan M Donahue

Trucking Accidents—Who is Liable for Injuries from Improperly Loaded or Secured Cargo?

The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that in 2009 alone, more than 3,380 people were killed in trucking accidents. Improperly loaded and improperly secured cargo pose a serious safety risk to both the general public and drivers working for commercial carriers. This article provides general liability information for those injured in trucking accidents due to improperly loaded or secured commercial vehicle cargo.

Personal Injuries to Non-Employees and the General Public

If a non-employee or other member of the general public is injured because of improperly secured or loaded cargo, both the shipper and carrier may be liable. The carrier may be liable under a theory of vicarious liability if an agent of the commercial carrier or trucking company is involved in the loading and securing process (e.g. the driver). However, if the injury results from improper loading of a sealed container, the carrier will not be liable because no one from the company was given the opportunity to inspect the cargo. A trucking accident lawyer in your area can answer specific questions about your case.

A shipper participating in loading the cargo, may also be liable under a common law theory of negligence. Federal guidelines alluded to above, provide evidence of the proper standard of care the shipper and carrier must follow. If either failed to meet this standard for proper loading/securing procedures, liability is likely.

Trucking Driver Injuries

The general public are not the only people injured by unsafe or improperly loaded commercial vehicles. Often times, drivers themselves are injured due to improperly loaded and secured cargo. Generally speaking, the shipper is not liable in this scenario.

Nonetheless, liability depends in large part on what time of defect existed in the loading or securing of the cargo. A latent defect is a deficiency in the loading or securing the driver could not have discovered through reasonable investigation, such as faulty blocking concealed by cargo. On the other hand, the driver should have discovered patent defects. While patent defects will generally insulate a shipper from liability, latent, undiscoverable problems will often result in liability. Courts will consider a number of factors in determining the type of defect at issue including the experience of the driver and whether the shipper gave adequate assurances the cargo was properly loaded.

Loading and Unloading is Also a Common Cause of Injuries

Injuries can occur to the driver, employees of the shipper, and by-standers. Notwithstanding mitigating factors, such as whether the person had a right to be on the shipper or consignee’s facility, the carrier’s (trucking company) liability is very much dependent on the rules applicable to the facility. Ultimately, the trucking company is subject to the same liability or freedom from liability as the facility.

If you or a loved one has questions about liability in a potential trucking accident case, talk to an experienced trucking accident attorney in your area for more specific information.

Additional resources provided by the author

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration:

Free Q&A with lawyers in your area

Avvo personal injury email series

Can’t find what you’re looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer