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Have you been injured in a flatbed truck accident? If so, you are not alone. The nation’s roads see more than 450,000 large truck accidents per year, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Flatbed trucks account for far more than their fair share of these accidents.
A flatbed truck is a special kind of large truck that includes a flat trailer bed with no sides and no roof. Although most flatbed trucks weigh about 30,000 pounds empty, they can weigh up to 80,000 pounds fully loaded. Flatbed trucks are used to carry certain types of dangerous cargo that cannot be carried easily, or cannot be carried at all, by ordinary big rig (18-wheeler) trucks. Cargo is the main reason that flatbed trucks are so dangerous.
The Special Dangers of Flatbed Trucking
Flatbed trucks typically carry oversized or bulky cargo. Their cargo limits the roads they can travel on because of weight-restricted bridges, low underpasses, and narrow lanes. Flatbed trucks are typically limited to traveling on multilane highways such as interstate highways. These roads, of course, feature congested high-speed traffic and plenty of other large trucks in the vicinity.
Following are some of the special types of cargo commonly carried by flatbed trucks:
- Prefabricated houses and motor homes, typically in one piece.
- Automobiles, sometimes stacked two vehicles high.
- Heavy equipment, such as. Flatbed trucks often carry construction equipment, for example.
- Building materials such as lumber, metal beams and scaffoldings.
- Trash and debris, typically from construction sites.
- Tire bales, which can be recycled for the rubber.
- Logs and trees.
- “Super sacks” of agricultural produce such as grains, nuts, seeds, sand, and fertilizer. A flatbed truck accident carrying a super sack was the inspiration for the 1974 Harry Chapin hit song “30,000 Pounds of Bananas.”
- Beehives. Imagine the consequences of an accident involving thousands of beehives.
Any of these types of cargo can cause multi-vehicle accidents, even if no vehicle actually collides with the truck.
Required Safety Precautions
Depending on the type and weight of cargo, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) may require some or all of the following special safety measures:
- A special permit for the driver;
- Signs on the front and back of the trailer waring of an oversized or bulky load;
- Warning signs notifying motorists that the load exceeds one-lane barriers;
- Special flags and lights;
- Pilot vehicles to escort the truck, monitor the cargo and warn motorists; and
- Other measures.
Since all of these safety measures can get expensive, there is a temptation to cut corners. Trucking companies that cut corners, however, cause a disproportionate number of accidents. A good truck accident lawyer will investigate to determine which safety precautions were required and whether the trucking company observed all of them. If any were ignored, and if the ignored safety precautions were a major cause of the accident, you are likely to win your claim.
Common Causes of Flatbed Truck Accidents
Unsecured cargo is perhaps the most important cause of flatbed truck accidents. Loose cargo, for example, can:
- Hit another vehicle;
- Cause one vehicle to swerve into another to avoid hitting the cargo;
- Run a vehicle off the road (and perhaps into an obstacle such as a bridge or an exit ramp);
- Hit another vehicle’s hood and cause a collision by blocking the other driver’s visibility;
- Cause severe cuts by smashing an automobile windshield; or
- Block off the road and trigger a multi-vehicle pileup or chain reaction crash.
A full list of the ways in which unsecured cargo could cause an accident is limited only by the human imagination. Other ways in which a flatbed truck is particularly likely to cause an accident include:
- A tire blows out because of the heavy load, causing the driver to lose control of the truck;
- Unevenly distributed weight, or cargo that is piled too high, causes the cargo to tip over, perhaps taking the cab of the truck with it;
- A jackknife accident occurs, suddenly blocking off the entire highway; or
- The truck’s brakes fail (brake failure is the leading cause of large truck accidents).
In addition to accidents to which flatbed trucks are particularly prone, many flatbed truck accidents can be traced to causes that are common among all big trucks, or common among all motorists—distracted driving, intoxicated driving, tailgating, driver fatigue and driver inexperience. With a fully loaded flatbed truck, however, the stakes are a lot higher than they are with passenger automobiles.
Commercial truckers must observe numerous safety regulations at both the state and the federal level. This gives your lawyer many chances to prove that the driver of the flatbed truck was negligent. Violation of these regulations causes accidents in unpredictable ways. The FMSCA, for example, reports that drivers who go without sleep for 18 straight hours (in violation of trucking regulations) are as impaired as someone who is legally intoxicated.
In many cases, it is not the driver but a third party who is responsible for the accident. This is particularly true for flatbed truck drivers, who must depend on others to maintain safety regulations and secure cargo. Possible third-party defendants include:
- The trucking company if it was itself negligent;
- The trucking company even if it wasn’t negligent, if the driver was negligent and the driver was an employee of the company;
- Whoever secured the cargo;
- The party who requested the transportation if, for example, did not mention materials that might dissolve when wet and result in unsecured cargo or uneven weight distribution
- A truck maintenance company;
- Whoever trained the driver, if inadequate training caused the accident; and
- A truck stop that served alcohol to an obviously intoxicated driver.
An experienced truck accident lawyer might also discover other defendants to hold liable for a flatbed truck accident.
You can use all kinds of evidence to prove liability, including:
- Eyewitness statements;
- The police report;
- Photographs of the scene of the accident;
- Video recordings;
- Medical records;
- Driver hourly service logs; and
- The truck’s “black box” (containing proof of the truck’s speed, braking, etc.).
You can also introduce public records such as the content of trucking regulations.
Mandatory Liability Insurance
In almost every case, you needn’t worry that the driver doesn’t carry enough insurance to pay your claim. Truck drivers must carry liability insurance, and very few drivers would dare drive without it. Mandatory minimum liability insurance for trucks over 10,000 pounds is:
- $750,000 for most trucks.
- $1,000,000 for auto haulers.
- $5,000,000 for certain hazardous materials.
One million dollars in coverage is becoming the industry standard.
Get Help Today
If you or someone you love has been injured in a flatbed truck accident, it’s important that you get an experienced truck accident attorney on your side. Insurance companies are known for trying to ensure they pay out as little as possible, and an attorney can make all the difference. Contact us today to set up a free consultation to see how we can help.