In the area of trucking management, few facets have more real-world implications than loose cargo. A scenario centering on spilled cargo undoubtedly carries with it financial implications to a trucking company, but can also represent costly legal liability.
Loose cargo is a big deal. Most of the time, this is a larger concern for flatbeds, but van trailer loads can run into this issue as well. Because of the risk, trucking companies are required to carry a minimum of $1 million in general liability insurance. The lawyers know this, so anytime there’s an accident involving a truck, they typically sue the trucking companies.
Believe it or not, the idea of loose cargo has created a cottage industry in the legal profession. Do a quick Google search for “loose cargo,” and you’ll be presented with a seemingly endless list of attorneys seeking to represent clients affected by errant freight. One lawyer in Amarillo, Texas, is upfront about it, boldly billing himself as the Flatbed Trailer Truck Accident Attorney at his firm. And you thought the title on your business card was cumbersome!
After so many years in this industry, I’ve got my share of stories related to loose cargo. I had a driver transporting one of my loads on a van trailer once. He was delivering steel parts, so they were heavy, not high volume, and were placed on pallets. He didn’t secure them in any way, and took the turn too fast on an off-ramp and the load shifted on one side. The truck tipped over. That was a real headache for my company – and an expensive one.
If you’ve traveled long distances along the highway, you’ve likely seen Department of Transportation officials making big rig inspections off the side of the road. Usually these inspections are centered on freight and equipment, but the road cops often issue fines on the slightest lapse they might witness in how your cargo is secured.
There was another guy years ago that was hauling steel coils on a flatbed. He was going up the highway to an off ramp, but it wasn’t the kind that’s like a circle—it was the type that branches off into another highway. Well, he ended up taking the turn too fast, the trailer rolled off to the side, and the coils hit the concrete barrier. So there’s flying concrete debris everywhere, and after the dust settled, more than 40 cars across three or four lanes of traffic had been damaged.
I can’t help but chuckle at the thought of that particular incident – what with the mini-tornado of flying debris that the poor truck driver thought would never end. You have to admit, it’s sort of funny to think about – but only because the driver involved was not with my fleet, so it wasn’t my trucking management issue. But this is serious business, and thankfully in both of my anecdotes there were no injuries.
Make no mistake: properly securing your cargo is a huge deal in the trucking industry. It’s a common problem that really puts a dent in safety, and the liability usually falls on the trucking company. When there’s an accident involving a truck, you can bet it’s the trucking company that will get sued, because the lawyers know we’re all sitting on at least a million dollars’ worth of liability insurance.
So even on the heavier freight, don’t rest your laurels on gravity, thinking the load will stay in place. Secure those loads!