Who is liable when a trucker is injured by falling freight?

Federal rules and regulations
Federal rules and regulations provide guidelines on who might be held liable when a trucker is injured by falling freight. Those are found in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) rules and regulations. The FMCSA requires that all cargo must be properly distributed and secured while on or inside of the transporting vehicle under weather and traffic conditions that could be normally expected. That includes normal acceleration, deceleration and when there’s an emergency. OSHA rules and regulations pivot on the health and safety of workers at the shipping dock or other locations that truckers drive to for purposes of loading or delivering cargo.

Truckers don’t ordinarily load trucks
Shippers have loading docks, fork lifts and hand lifts for a reason. They load trucks with them, and while loading, they secure the cargo. After that, they seal the trailer doors. Truckers generally don’t load trucks. They’re required to drive them safely from their point of origin to their destination within a prescribed time frame. That alone can be sufficiently demanding. It’s unlikely that the driver will be present during loading. Many shippers don’t even permit truck drivers to be on the docks when their truck is being loaded.

The bill of lading
This is a legal document between the shipper of goods and the transporter that indicates the type of goods are being carried, their destination and their quantity. The bill of lading must travel with the goods. It must be signed by the shipper, the trucker and the receiver. Who signs off on that bill of lading on behalf of the shipper can be pivotal in determining who is liable when somebodfy is injured by falling freight or a load shift accident.

Shippers load and count
If a truck’s cargo is loaded by the shipper or the shipper’s agent, and the trailer doors are then sealed, the cargo is subject to what’s known as “shipper’s load and count,” otherwise known as “SLC.” The bill of lading should be marked accordingly by whoever did the loading. If not so marked by the shipper or its agent, it’s recommended that the truck driver mark it. By virtue of that marking, the trucker is legally neither directly nor indirectly responsible for damage to the load as a result of improper loading, an inaccurate count or concealed damage to the load. On the other hand, if the trucker monitors loading of the trailer, the general rule would be that the trucking company would be liable for any lost or damaged cargo.

Falling freight accidents
It’s not uncommon for warehouse material handlers at truck destinations to get seriously hurt when trailer doors are opened, and poorly secured cargo that shifted in transit comes cascading down on them. In attempting to determine liability, look for SLC on the bill of lading. That should point in the direction of the primary defendant. In the context of a truck driver or warehouse material handler, SLC can open the door to damages beyond those of the scope of workers’ compensation and into the expanded damages contemplated by the law of negligence. If a load shift causes a jackknife or a rollover, and injuries result to other people on or near the roadway, look for that SLC on the bill of lading too.

Liability for injury in load shift accidents is often addressed in obscure federal rules and regulations. If you or somebody close to you was injured by falling freight, contact the “trucker’s attorney” for a free consultation and case evaluation.