The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued a ruling in February clarifying driver/shipper responsibilities for cargo securement. The ruling concerned a lawsuit stemming from a May 2005 truck rollover crash that took place shortly after a truck was loaded with boxed and palletized welding materials at the shipper's warehouse facility. The cargo shifted suddenly when the driver rounded a curve soon after leaving the warehouse, causing the vehicle to overturn, resulting in serious driver injuries and property damage.
The truck driver filed a lawsuit claiming the shipper was negligent in its responsibility to properly secure the cargo. The claim was based on the following principles:
The shipper owed the driver “reasonable care” in protecting him from harm by properly securing the cargo.
The shipper had a duty to properly secure the cargo according to Section 392.9 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs).
Section 392.9 of the FMCSRs prohibits a driver from operating a commercial motor vehicle unless the cargo is adequately secured according to the performance standards defined in Sections 393.100-393.136. For example, cargo securement devices must withstand certain forward, rearward and lateral acceleration/deceleration forces. The regulations clearly indicate that the securement standards apply to all types of cargo, whether loaded on open flatbed or closed box/van trailers.
However, Section 392.9 of the FMCSRs does contain language that exempts the driver from this requirement when the cargo area has been sealed, e.g., the driver has been ordered not to open or inspect it, or where the vehicle has been loaded in such a manner that cargo inspection is impractical.
In evaluating the driver's negligence claim, the court had to determine whether the shipper had a responsibility to comply with the regulations governing cargo securement. The court based its decision on whether anything in the statute contained “plain language” that required the shipper to properly secure the cargo. It concluded that: “…The regulation provides the duties of the driver, not the entity that loads the cargo, be it shipper or other third party.” Thus, the claim was dismissed.
Given the facts, this finding may seem obvious and the driver's negligence claim may appear frivolous. But it does point out several important lessons. First, Sections 392.1-392.9 of the FMCSRs clearly define requirements for carriers and their drivers regarding the “driving of commercial motor vehicles.” Those requirements include the following:
Rules that prohibit drivers from driving while ill, fatigued or under the influence of drugs/alcohol.
Speed limits must be taken into consideration when scheduling trips.
Guidelines for equipment inspection and use.
Procedures for inspecting cargo and cargo securement devices.
Second, the cargo securement standards enacted in 2002 apply to van and flatbed trailers, and contain minimum performance requirements for maintaining cargo stability during significant acceleration/deceleration forces encountered while starting, stopping or negotiating curves.
This court ruling tells us that the driver, not the shipper, is responsible for ensuring that cargo is adequately secured.
Jim York is the ass't. vice president of technical services for Zurich Services Corp. Risk Engineering in Schaumburg, IL