When driving on New Jersey’s highways, a driver can never be sure that a tractor-trailer ahead of them is properly loaded and within weight regulations. Overloaded trailers and improperly loaded trailers often lead to some of the most serious truck accidents in the state. Such loads will negatively impact a truck driver’s ability to control their vehicle, as the additional weight will not be able to be compensated for by the brakes and will lead to a higher risk of rollovers and jackknives. (Jackknifing refers to a vehicle that crashes in such a way that it folds like a partially open folding pocket knife.)
Fortunately, if you are involved in an accident with an overloaded or improperly loaded truck, you have a right to seek legal compensation for your injuries.
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Truck Load Limitations
According to NJ Rev Stat § 39:3-84, there are various limits that will be applied to a truck and its load in regard to weight. Primarily, these limitations are based on how much each set of axles of the vehicle may exert on the highway, with a combined gross weight acting as an absolute maximum for each vehicle. Axle sets are divided into single axles, tandem axles (a double set of axles), and tridem axles (a triple set of axles), and the following table shows how much each set is allowed to hold before violating state regulations.
Number of Axles
Maximum Weight Exerted by Axles
Gross Combined Weight
While they protect our highways from being damaged due to excessive weight, these regulations also help to ensure that trucks will be able to brake properly in the event of an emergency. Additionally, such limitations ensure that a collision by a truck is less dangerous, as there is less of a heavy load being carried with momentum into a smaller vehicle.
Truck owners may apply for special permits as specified under N.J.A.C. § 13:18-1, which will allow them to exceed the normal load limits for one-way trips of five days or less. These permits require that a driver or owner produce an insurance policy covering them for minimum liability of up to $100,000 for a single injured or killed person in an accident, or $300,000 for multiple injured or killed individuals in an accident. Typically, truck companies will already have the necessary insurance to cover these requirements, but if they are found to have a permit without the necessary coverage, an attorney may be able to assert negligence on the part of the government for issuing the permit.
This means that an overweight vehicle will either be found in violation of the regulations, creating further evidence of their liability, or have insurance to cover a victim’s injuries as a result of an accident.
Improperly Loaded Vehicles
NJ Rev Stat § 39:4-77 requires that no one loads a vehicle in a manner that will result in the load’s contents being spilled across a roadway, and no one may permit such an improperly loaded vehicle to be driven. Additionally, the law requires that any cargo that might extend above the height of the body of the vehicle must be covered by some form of cover which will prevent it from spilling. Any owner or operator found in violation of this law will face a fine of upwards of $500 per violation committed.
If an accident occurs, you should speak with a personal injury attorney who is experienced with truck accidents caused by improper loading. They will be able to gather information on what the cargo being carried was and how it should have been secured.
The Cargo Securement Rules created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration outlines particular rules on how loads should be secured. These rules cover many different materials and styles of securement that work best for the different materials. The rules also require that drivers regularly inspect their cargo to ensure that it is still secured. If it is not, it is the responsibility of a driver to secure their cargo once again before proceeding with their travel. Primarily, this involves making sure that the cargo cannot shift out of place during transit.
Improperly loaded vehicles may experience issues with weight distribution during travel. No single axle can have too much pressure put upon it, or else the entire trailer is in danger of suffering a malfunction or being difficult to control. If such an issue were to occur, then the truck and vehicles around it are at higher risk of an accident, as the driver may lose control of the vehicle unexpectedly due to the shifting weight. This is often why trucks overturn and jackknife, as powerful winds will cause a trailer with a weight imbalance to tip over, or the driver will not be able to exert enough control to prevent an imbalanced trailer from shifting out of control.
An example of improper loading mattering greatly to a case is Dolan v. Sea Transfer Corp. It involved a driver who failed to properly secure a shipping container to the trailer of his truck. As a result, the container came loose as the driver made a turn and landed on the other side of the highway, hitting the plaintiff’s car in the process. The plaintiff was totally disabled by his injuries, sued for negligence, and was awarded $1.2 million dollars by the court to cover medical expenses, loss of wages, and pain and suffering.
It was determined that the truck driver and his company were at fault for the accident.
What Sorts of Accidents Occur Because of Overloaded and Improperly Loaded Trucks?
Data on how many accidents are caused by overloaded and improperly loaded trucks is difficult to find. Oftentimes, it is listed as only a contributing factor if at all in the data. However, there is clear precedent through cases that overloaded and improperly loaded trucks could lead to any of the following:
- Jackknives: The driver is unable to stop the jackknife motion of their trailer due to the improper loading of the cargo or sheer weight of it. This can cause the trailer to smash into another vehicle or to become a serious obstacle for oncoming drivers to bypass.
- Overturns and Rollovers: Due to the increased and imbalance weight of a trailer, a semi-truck and its cargo could tip over when making turns or being buffeted by high winds. This is, of course, extremely dangerous for any vehicle that might be in the falling path of the vehicle as it goes down.
- Overruns When Going Downhill: Drivers of overweight and improperly loaded trucks will often experience difficulty controlling their speed during a descent. This means that cars in their path are at risk of being struck and overcome from behind as the truck races down the hill.
- Tire Blowouts: Increased pressure on a vehicle’s tires due to improper loading and overweight will often result in them blowing out during the course of travel. This, of course, leads to truck drivers suddenly losing all control they previously had, putting themselves and other vehicles in danger as they struggle to control the truck.
- Lost Loads: If improperly secured, cargo is at risk of falling off or coming loose of a truck during the journey to its destination. This results in other drivers suddenly being at risk of either falling debris or obstacles that need to be maneuvered around sharply.
Of course, many other types of truck accidents could occur as a result of overweight or improperly loaded trucks. If you are involved in an accident with a truck, do not be afraid to ask your attorney to look for documentation regarding the truck’s cargo and weight. It may play a key factor in proving the liability of the driver and company if you decide to sue.
The Role of Weigh Stations
More than likely, you’ve never had to stop at a weigh station during your travels. These checkpoints along the highways of the United States are used as stop points that truck and commercial vehicle drivers can stop at to have their weights inspected. While some states only require that drivers stop when directed to by an officer of the law, New Jersey requires that certain vehicles which exceed a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of 10,000 lbs. must stop at weigh stations for inspection.
GVWR is effectively the max operating weight of a vehicle as specified by the vehicle’s manufacturer. This can include the vehicle’s chassis, body, engine, accessories, driver, passengers, and cargo, but does not include the weight of attached trailers. In virtually all cases, a semi-truck will exceed 10,000 lbs., thus requiring it to stop at a weigh station.
There are both permanent set and portable temporary weigh stations throughout New Jersey’s highway system, and many allow you to pass through while still driving by having sensors in the roadway. This is why there are areas where trucks must use the right lane, as scales will be able to scan their weight as they pass over the road. If it can be proven that a truck bypassed a weigh station when it should have stopped or used the right lane, the driver will be found to have violated the law. Fines and log violations will be cited, and drivers will lose time as further inspection is performed on their vehicle to ensure that it did not bypass the weigh station to hide other violations.
Beyond weigh stations and permits, a final form of recordkeeping that is required of drivers and companies is that of inventories of shipments. The various materials that may be carried by trucks have different requirements in regards to manifest and inventory management, but in general, truck drivers, truck companies, and the businesses requesting deliveries and shipments must maintain a record of the shipments that they send, carry, and receive. These records will typically include an itemized list of all the things included in the shipment and details about the weight of the cargo.
Typically, businesses are required to maintain detailed records of their shipments and receivables several years into the past, and thus there should typically be several possible avenues for discovering the details of a shipment such as when it was delivered, its cargo and weight, and who was delivering it. It is best to speak with an attorney about acquiring copies of these documents from the involved parties, as they could serve as proof of a driver, owner, and client being aware of the shipment being dangerously overweight.
How Does All of This Affect My Compensation After An Accident?
In general, any one of these issues can be used to raise questions of liability after an accident with a truck. It is the duty and obligation of drivers, owners, and partnered companies to observe all regulations in regards to avoiding overweight cargo and, if necessary, safely delivering overweight cargo when they have a permit to do so. All of these parties, in the event of an accident, could be found liable for a failure to safely deliver the cargo.
For instance, Marvrikidis v. Petullo included liability for the driver of the truck, the owner of the truck, the asphalt company which allowed its asphalt to be delivered unsafely, and the gas and auto shop business which was to receive the asphalt. The victim had been severely burned as a result of the driver running a red light, hitting a light pole, and overturning his overweight truck, causing asphalt to spill across the victim’s car.
Both the driver and owner were aware that the truck was overloaded when the accident occurred, and the driver claimed to have been unable to stop because of it. The asphalt business which provided the cargo had allowed the cargo to be shipped in this overweight state, failing to provide an adequate inspection to ensure that it could handle the load. The gas and auto shop business’s liability was unrelated to the weight issues. By the end of the trial, liability was accorded to all four of the defendant parties, and Marvikidis and her husband were awarded $750,000 and $30,000 dollars in damages, respectively.
If a truck company is found to be liable for your injuries, compensation will typically be paid using their insurance policy on the truck involved in your accident. The required minimum liability coverage they have will vary depending on the type of freight they carry, and the FMCSA sets these regulations. The following table will list the type of cargo and the minimum liability required for a truck company to legally deliver it using a truck.
Type of Cargo
Minimum Liability Coverage
Many truck companies which deal exclusively in general cargo and household goods, however, will still purchase $1,000,000 of minimum liability coverage. While not all accidents will reach that amount of necessary compensation being paid to a victim, it is important that they be prepared for the accidents that do reach that amount.
Before you can sue, however, you must make sure that you meet the lawsuit threshold of any auto policy you might be covered under. Usually, lawsuit thresholds will limit your right to sue in exchange for PIP benefits which are payable regardless of fault but will only cover economic losses such as medical expenses and lost wages. If you suffer what is considered a serious injury or your auto policy includes a no limit on lawsuit provision, however, you will be able to sue the liable party for compensation of economic and non-economic losses.
Frequently Asked Questions
Not necessarily. Most personal injury lawsuits are settled out of court through negotiations between the victims and liable parties. This helps to prevent a drawn out legal battle that neither side wishes to pay the expenses for, especially when a defendant is fairly certain that they will lose. However, if a defendant believes that it can win a court case, it may choose to not settle.
Typically, you will settle out of court through negotiations, or the court will decide proper compensation based on your economic and non-economic losses and on the liability of all parties involved. Negotiations will typically result in a swifter compensation than a trial, but once you have settled out of court, you will no longer be able to appeal the amount you received. However, a court may also find that you are more than 50% liable for an accident, which will result in you being unable to receive under New Jersey’s modified comparative fault model.
What Should I Do if I’ve Been Injured in a Truck Accident?
If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident with a truck that may have been overloaded or improperly loaded, contact Rosenblum Law for a free, no-obligation consultation today. Our experienced personal injury attorneys can analyze the situation and negotiate the best possible settlement for you. Call 888-815-3649 or email us today.