Many drivers experience some form of anxiety when driving near tractor-trailers and similar commercial vehicles on New York’s roadways. Despite numerous regulations being in place to ensure that such vehicles are properly packed, accidents involving tractor-trailers often occur as a result of improper packing and securing of their cargo. Such mistakes will result in vehicles that are off-balance and prone to a loss of control, as drivers are not typically prepared to compensate for the shifting weight while in transit. This results in a higher risk of rollovers and jackknives, which put not only the truck driver at risk of injury but also any drivers around them when the accident occurs.
When an accident occurs as a result of overloading and improper loading, victims do have an opportunity to receive compensation. That’s because…
Additional regulations set minimum liability coverage amounts for the owners and operators of commercial vehicles, which can be used to compensate victims in the event of serious injury in an accident.
Compensation After a Truck Accident
Proof of overloaded or improperly loaded cargo, weigh station violations, and improper recordkeeping can affect the compensation that you may receive after a truck accident. The federal and state rules and regulations help to create a formal sense of obligation on the part of drivers, owners, and clients to protect motorists who share the road with commercial vehicles. If any of these parties fail to observe proper safety procedures accidentally or deliberately, then it is expected that they hold liability for negligence if an accident occurs as a result.
Generally speaking, the people who will be responsible are the driver of the truck and the owner of the vehicle, whether it be a single individual, a small business, or a large corporation. Owners are required by the FMCSA to carry minimum liability coverage depending on the sort of cargo that they typically carry, and oftentimes, owners will purchase coverage in excess of the minimum to cover particularly dangerous accidents. As such, if you can prove the liability of the driver and company, you can typically expect a suitable amount of compensation for your injuries up to at least the amounts listed in the following table.
Type of Cargo
Minimum Liability Coverage
However, you cannot immediately sue after an accident in New York. Before considering if you should sue, you need to determine if you are able to sue under New York’s serious injury threshold. All auto insurance policies include what are known as first party or personal injury protection (PIP) benefits, which are used to cover economic losses resulting from the medical expenses of an accident for up to $50,000 per person regardless of who is at fault. In exchange, drivers lose the right to sue under the serious injury threshold unless they suffer what is classified as a serious injury or face economic losses in excess of $50,000 dollars.
If you are able to sue, you should contact an experienced legal representative and discuss your accident with them. An attorney who has considerable experience with personal injury caused by overweight or improperly loaded commercial vehicles will be able to determine if you may have a strong case against the company. This initial contact can serve as a good starting point for a working relationship as well, as you and your legal representative will be in frequent contact throughout the case to ensure that it goes smoothly. The attorney will seek evidence to support the claim that an overloaded or improperly loaded truck was liable for the accident.
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Truck Load Limitations
Under New York state law, all vehicles including commercial vehicles such as moving vans and semi-trucks must adhere to NY Veh & Traf L § 385. This statute of the New York Vehicle and Traffic (VAT) Law sets various limits for the weights of vehicles based on the size of vehicles, the fuel used by the vehicles, and how much weight is exerted on individual tires (to prevent blowouts) and sets of axles, including additional weight added by cargo. These regulations serve to both protect the roadways of the state and the drivers who use them.
Truck axle sets are divided into single axles, tandem axles (a double set of axles) which are set less than eight feet from center to center, tandem axles which are set 8 to 10 feet from center to center, and tridem axles (a triple set of axles) to determine how much weight can be exerted on them. The following table shows the absolute maximum weights that may be exerted on each type of axle.
Type of Axle
Tandem axles, Less than 8 ft. center to center
Tandem axles, 8 ft. to 10 ft. center to center
32,000 lbs. + 1,000 lbs. per foot between the centers of the foremost and rearmost axles
Additional limitations are set depending upon the gross weight of the vehicle if they are a tandem axle vehicle with 8 to 10 ft between the centers of their vehicles or a tridem axle vehicle. If a vehicle has a gross weight of less than 71,000 lbs, then it shall use the higher of the following two formulas to determine the maximum weight that may be exerted.
- The total weight on all axles shall be limited to 34,000 lbs. + 1,000 lbs. per foot between the centers of the foremost and rearmost axles. For example, a tridem axle vehicle with 8 feet between the axles’ centers will have a maximum of 42,000 lbs. set on all of its axles under this requirement.
- The overall gross weight on a group of two or more consecutive axles will not exceed the amount produced by the following formula, known as the Federal Bridge Formula: W = 500 ((LxN)/(N-1) + (12xN)+36). L stands for length between the centers of the foremost and rearmost axles, and N stands for the number of axles in the group. However, two or more consecutive sets of tandem axles may carry a gross weight of 34,000 lbs. each provided that there is a distance of 36 ft. between the first and last axles of each consecutive set of axles.
It’s not expected that other drivers necessarily know the math for determining maximum weight when an accident does occur. Instead, drivers can rely on an experienced attorney who has worked with truck cases before. Such a legal expert will be able to review a truck’s specifications and cargo manifest to determine if it was in violation of the state regulations, and whether this violation contributed to the accident.
Finally, unless a truck owner has a special permit, a truck cannot exceed a maximum gross combined weight of either 80,000 lbs. for most vehicles or 82,000 lbs. for vehicles powered by natural gas. Such permits when issued by the state government will typically last for a single five-day period as specified in the document. When driving to, from, and within New York City, owners must have separate permits that cover each part of the travel within the city’s limits.
Improperly Loaded Vehicles
Article 9 of Title 3 in the New York VAT Law sets the terms and conditions for commercial vehicles to transport goods in New York. However, the state regulations only specifically address the transportation of logs, similar materials, and loose cargo, relying on federal regulations for further rules.
Logs and similar materials that might roll about during transit must be securely fastened. Violations of the regulations may result in fines of up to $100 for a first offense, $350 for a second offense, and $750 for any additional offenses. Imprisonment for up to 30 days may occur as well, and both punishments can be ordered and enforced by the court.
On the other hand, loose materials that may fly free of an open back must be covered in some way by a tarp or similar covering. The law does not set specific punishments for violations of this type, but being found in violation of the regulation can serve as evidence of a driver’s liability in the event of an accident.
For further regulations, New York refers to the federal rules and regulations found in the Cargo Securement Rules created by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). These rules set the standard for the proper loading, transportation, and unloading of various materials and the methods which should be used for each one. They also identify and enforce an obligation on the part of drivers to inspect their cargo during transit and, if need be, cease traveling until they can ensure that their cargo is safely secured. Usually, this means ensuring that all the tools used to fasten down cargo securely during transport have not come undone, though if cargo has shifted mid-transit, they must identify the cause and prevent it from occurring again.
Establishing Liability for Accidents Involving Improperly Loaded Trucks
Negligence for an improperly loaded truck will generally fall with the truck driver and the truck company, as they are required to follow the federal and state rules to ensure maximum safety. Proof of such negligence can be established by a personal injury attorney who is familiar with truck loading protocols. For example, cargo records can be accessed to confirm or deny the testimony of the driver and truck company if both claim to have acted responsibility.
There are times, however, where defects in the cargo are unknown to the driver and trucking company and could not have been found during their inspection. In such cases, the driver and company are not held responsible, as they would not have been able to identify and address the issues that caused the accident. Instead, fault would lie with the manufacturing company that created the cargo. Here, a victim would have an opportunity to sue the cargo manufacturer instead. Once again, an attorney can research how the cargo should have been created and maintained and why a mistake in its production led to it being improperly loaded.
The Role of Weigh Stations
Most New York drivers have never had a need to stop at a weigh station in their entire life. These stations that dot the roadways of the United States are operated by either federal or state officials in order to inspect any commercial vehicles that may be overweight or improperly loaded during its travels.
Unlike some states, New York has laws which mandate that certain vehicles stop for mandatory weighing at stations. These include any vehicles which have a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR) of over 10,000 lbs., a weight that covers many commercial vehicles travelling throughout the state. However, rather than using permanent weigh stations, New York law enforcement will use weigh-in motion detection tools to check weights as drivers pass by. If they are found to be at or over 10,000 lbs., they are directed by law enforcement to stop at a nearby rest area where a temporary weigh station has been set up.
Failing to weigh in and fall under the legal maximum limits have two primary consequences for drivers and owners. First, drivers will not be allowed to leave the rest area until their cargo has been further inspected and measures have been arranged to have the cargo offloaded to other trucks to safely transport.
Secondly, records will be kept of a vehicle’s weigh-ins for several months or years afterwards. If an accident occurs due to a driver losing control over an overweight vehicle, an experienced attorney will be able to track down information regarding these weigh-ins. This information can be used to argue for increased compensation if it can be proven that the driver and the owner of the truck have a track record of frequently failing these inspections.
No matter what might be transported in the United States, all drivers and companies must maintain a proper inventory of any and all shipments that they transport. Every material will have different required forms of recordkeeping, and it is the responsibility of drivers, the shipping company, and clients to safely store any and all records relating to their business for many months and even years after delivery. No matter what material might be shipped, almost all inventories will include an itemized list of what exactly was shipped, where it came from, and where it went, along with details such as the weight of the cargo and how long it took to transport.
A company may attempt to hide them in order to avoid liability for an overweight or improperly loaded vehicle, but failure to produce these documents can result in further punishment for the liable parties, and most likely, you will have an even stronger case for negligence on the part of these parties. If the documents are produced, your attorney will be able to use them to identify if the responsible parties lacked proper permits or failed to follow safety protocols, despite being aware of the dangerous nature of the shipment and the risk of injury.
What Sorts of Accidents Occur Because of Overloaded and Improperly Loaded Trucks?
It is often difficult to determine how many accidents are caused by overloaded and improperly loaded trucks. Statistics will often only list such circumstances as contributing factors rather than the primary factors in cases if they are even mentioned at all. However, the fact that the weight and shipment of cargo by commercial vehicles is strictly regulated by both state and federal entities supports the notion that these factors can play a role in accidents.
While there are many types of truck accidents that may occur as a result of an overweight or improperly loaded vehicle, some of the most common accidents that may occur include the following:
- Jackknives: This occurs when the driver of a commercial vehicle loses control of their trailer, causing it, and the truck cab pulling it, to fold up like a pocket knife.
- Overturns and rollovers: Overweight and improperly loaded trucks are at greater risk of turning over due to shifting cargo and the unweildy weight of the vehicle. This can result in them crushing smaller vehicles or spilling cargo across the roadway in front of other vehicles.
- Overrides when going downhill: The increased weight of a commercial vehicle beyond its mandated maximum will result in greater momentum working against the brakes of the vehicle when going downhill. Even if brakes are applied, such force can be extremely difficult to stop, resulting in accidents where a truck will ram into the back of another vehicle and overrun them.
- Tire blowouts: The state regulations on the total weight can be exerted on a single tire are important because wheels are only designed to handle a certain amount of pressure during travel. While wheels do degrade over time normally, increased weight hastens the rate at which they deteriorate and increases the risk of a tire blowout.
- Lost loads: Finally, cargo must be properly secured and tied down before a commercial vehicle takes to the road to deliver it. If it is not, the shifting cargo can fly loose from open tarps or ram against the back door of a trailer, resulting in dangerous debris across the road.
Frequently Asked Questions
Typically, no. Most cases will be settled out of court before they require litigation. Before trials begin, there is typically a series of negotiations between a victim, liable parties, and their legal representatives in which the initial facts of the case are discussed and further evidence is produced through investigation by both sides over a period of several months. If the liable parties decide that it would be financially better to simply settle out of court, they can make an offer to the victim and proceed to negotiate a proper settlement amount.
While this may be a lengthy process on its own, it helps to prevent even more arduous legal battles that neither side wishes to wait through and pay for. Victims often require financial relief immediately, and a legal battle will require them to retain an attorney for a longer period of time, costing them money. Liable parties often wish to simply quietly deal with these matters rather than risk greater financial loss through having to pay for legal costs during a trial and having a jury decide that proper compensation is beyond what even their liability coverage can provide.
However, be aware that a settlement is generally considered to be the final say on a matter if it is accepted. If you are offered a settlement by a liable party, be sure to discuss it with an attorney so that you are certain that the amount is reasonable. You will typically be unable to seek further compensation once a settlement is signed.
A settlement during pretrial negotiations will result in an agreed upon amount of compensation that both parties deem satisfactory. If a case goes to trial, then compensation will be determined by the court, which will hear the evidence of the case and how much losses were incurred as a result of the accident. Generally speaking, the court will determine the amount of compensation based upon the losses incurred by the victim and the proportional liability of the victim and the liable parties as required by New York’s comparative fault rule. This means that, if a victim is partially responsible for the accident, their compensation will be reduced in proportion to account for that responsibility, even if the primary cause was an overweight or improperly loaded truck.
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.