Trucking Accidents Involving Cargo Securement System Issues
The Chicago Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer, P.C. are well aware that many truck crashes occur each year as a result of improperly secured cargo. The Federal motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) sets forth standards and guidelines for securement systems which are applicable to most large trucks. The FMCSA’ Driver’s Handbook on Cargo Securement, defines a securement system as “a securement method that uses one or a combination of the following elements: (1) Vehicle Structure; (2) Securing Devices; and (3) Blocking and Bracing Equipment.
The FMSCA requires that all elements of the Vehicle Structure, including anchor points, must be in “good working order.” Factors to be taken into consideration in assessing whether a truck’s structure is in good working order, include ensuring that there is no obvious damage or distress, as well as no weakened parts or sections. Vehicle Structure includes floors, walls, decks, tiedown anchor points, headboards, bulkheads, stakes, posts, and anchor points. In addition, the vehicle structure must be able to withstand a minimum amount of force in each direction: forward, rearward, sideways, and upward.
Securement systems must also use appropriate Securing Devices, which the FMSCA defines as “[a]ny device specifically manufactured to attach or secure cargo to a vehicle or trailer.” Securing Devices include synthetic webbing, chain, wire rope, manila rope, synthetic rope, steel strapping, claims & latches, blocking, front-end structure, grab hooks, binders, shackles, winches, stake pockets, D-rings, pocket, webbing ratchet, bracing, and friction mat. Securing devices are typically used in combination to form an assembly, referred to as a “tiedown,” that “attaches cargo to, or restrains cargo on a vehicle” and/or “is attached to anchor point(s).”
Similar to the vehicle structure, securing devices must also be in “good working order,” including no knots, obvious damage, distress or weakened components. With the exception to steel strapping, section 2.1.3 of the Cargo Securement Handbook, “[A] tiedown must be designed, constructed, and maintained so that the driver can tighten it.” This section further provides that “[e]ach tiedown must be attached and secured so that it does not become loose or unfastened, open, or release during transit.” Truck Drivers must also take into consideration whether edge protection is necessary to prevent a tiedown from being cut or torn when touching cargo.
The final element to securement systems are Blocking and Bracing Equipment, which are defined, respectively, in the Appendix B of the aforementioned Handbooks, as:
Blocking: A structure, device, or another substantial article placed against or around an article to prevent horizontal movement of the article.
Bracing: A structure, device, or another substantial article placed against an article to prevent it from tipping that may also prevent it from shifting.
While there are a variety of acceptable blocking and bracing materials, section 2.1.4 requires that “[t]he material used for blocking or bracing and as chocks and cradles must be strong enough to withstand being split or crushed by the cargo or tiedowns.” Wood is a common material used for blocking and bracing. However, when wood is used, the grain should run lengthwise, in accordance with proper securement standards. In addition, hardwood is recommended, although not required. Whatever type of wood is used, it should be properly seasoned, as well as free from rot or decay, knots, knotholes, and splits.
In selecting an appropriate securement system, there are several factors that must be taken into consideration. As provided in section 2.1.2 of the FMCSA’s Driver’s Handbook on Cargo Securement “[t]he securement system chosen must be appropriate for the cargo's size, shape, strength, and characteristics.” This section further states that:
“The articles of cargo must have sufficient structural integrity to withstand the forces of loading, securement, and transportation. This includes packaged articles, unitized articles, and articles stacked one on the other.”
As a general rule, securement methods must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, to determine whether a particular system is suitable enough to provide adequate protection in accordance and compliance with federal regulatory standards. It is important to understand that a truck driver or trucking company that transports cargo under the belief that they are in compliance with federal regulations, cannot avoid liability in the event that freight shifts, falls, detaches, or otherwise causes or contributes to an accident. In sum, no matter what securement system is utilized, the duty to prevent harm to others will always exist.
If you or a loved one were the victim in an accident involving a large truck, it is important that you discuss the matter with an attorney experienced in Trucking Collisions. The Attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer, P.C. remain dedicated to seeking justice and compensation on behalf of all our clients. Contact us today at 773-516-4100, to set up your FREE personal injury consultation.