By Charlie Morasch
Should shippers be held responsible for truck wrecks caused by shifting loads – particularly if the shipper loaded it and the driver brings improper load securement to the shipper’s attention?
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled in mid-October that motor carriers aren’t the only party responsible for load securement and that the shipper may be held responsible.
The ruling reversed a summary judgment decision by U.S. District Judge Sylvia Rambo, who ruled that FMCSA regulations require the motor carrier exclusively to safely secure cargo to prevent shifting.
Trucker Charles Spence hauled welding supplies five times for ESAB Group Inc., complaining to the shippers multiple times that dock personnel nailing wooden boards to the trailer’s floor to prevent shifting did not ensure proper securement.
Spence’s last load for ESAB occurred in May 2005 when his truck and trailer overturned in Hanover, PA, on a curve not far from the ESAB facility. Spence – who suffered serious injuries from the wreck – said the load shifted and caused the tractor-trailer to overturn.
He sued ESAB in 2007, alleging negligence in loading and securing the welding materials and that the improper load caused the wreck.
Spence complained to ESAB that the first load wasn’t blocked or braced, and used his own load lock to wedge between pallets and his trailer walls. Spence noticed on a different load that pallets had shifted. On the day of the wreck, when his own company didn’t have a load lock, he relied on ESAB’s load stars – which are small metal cleats placed on the trailer floor that pallets are loaded on to.
The appeals court concluded in its October ruling that the “primary duty to assure that a load does not shift in transit generally rests with the carrier and its driver,” the three-judge panel wrote.
“But where there is evidence that a shipper undertook to load and secure the cargo being transported by a third-party carrier, the shipper also bears an obligation to exercise reasonable care. … ESAB cannot be absolved of liability at the summary judgment stage. Whether ESAB breached its duty of care and, if so, whether Spence was negligent as well are matters committed to resolution by a jury.” LL