Cargo Spills: Causes and Consequences

Earlier this month, Javier Macias filed a suit against Garner Trucking for an accident occurring on Nov. 15, 2017 in which his 2007 Honda Civic was struck by cargo that had fallen off of one of Garner Trucking’s tractor trailers.  Macias, who was seriously injured, is looking for $100,000 in compensation.(1) 

Trucking accidents occur every day and can reach hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars in liability costs, damaged products, cleanup, lawsuits, damaged equipment…the list goes on and on.  But why do these accidents occur and what are the consequences of such?

Driver negligence tops the list of reasons why trucking accidents occur, which includes distracted driving, driving while tired, and driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.(2)  Dash cams can be played back to determine if a driver was in fact distracted by reaching for something in his truck, using his cell phone, etc.  Regulations, such as the well-debated hours-of-service rule and electronic logs, were created with safety in mind, forcing drivers to take a break rather than pushing the clock and driving while tired.  All carriers are also required to have a drug and alcohol testing program in place for its drivers.  Still, driver negligence continues to be the most common catalyst in trucking accidents.


With nearly 2,000,000 tractor trailers on the road in the U.S. hauling roughly 71% of total freight tonnage in the country, according to the American Trucking Association, poor maintenance of trucks and their equipment cannot be overlooked.(3)  Faulty brakes, windshield wipers, tires, etc. can lead to fatal accidents.


Weather also plays a large roll in crashes as ice, rain, and snow can lead a truck to jackknife or hydroplane, spilling contents within or outside of the truck, flipping trucks over, or causing them to run into other vehicles.

Drivers and shippers who do not properly load cargo are at a risk of the freight and trailer shifting while in transport, leading to a disaster.  The movie Final Destination 2 put a fear in many as they watched the scene where a pile of logs fall off of a semi, causing a massive fatal car accident on the highway, but while just a movie, there is no doubt that thousands of serious and/or fatal accidents occur every year due to cargo that is not properly secured.

According to the Driver’s Handbook on Cargo Securement, which is based on the North American Cargo Securement Standard, in order for a driver to operate their truck or a carrier to allow a driver to operate their truck, the “cargo must be properly distributed and adequately secured, the vehicle’s structure and equipment must be secured,” and the cargo must not obscure or interfere with the driver.(4)

Who’s Liable?

You’re one of those companies who take pride in saving money by auctioning off lanes in order to find the cheapest rate.  So you utilize a 3rd party, who then contracts a carrier to deliver your freight.  You, however, did not know that this 3pl, like many others, does not always vet out drivers beforehand, checking their CSA scores.  Therefore, your 3pl has now contracted a carrier who, if they had checked, would have found that they had several alert statuses against them.  This carrier, who is now carrying your freight, gets into an accident and a picture of your product spilled across the road is displayed on the news, ruining your brand equity and the reputation you spent years building.  Viola.  You are now facing due diligence.

Simply put, due diligence is “the care a reasonable person should take before entering into an agreement or a transaction with another party”(5).  Did you do enough to make sure that the carrier you chose was qualified?

It is your responsibility to put your freight onboard a qualified and safe carrier.  When entrusting a 3rd party to find the cheapest rate, you are taking the chance of shipping with some unknown carrier who may be on an alert status in one or more of the CSA’s BASIC categories.  This not only puts your freight at risk, but poses a danger to everyone else on the road.

The saying stands…you get what you pay for but did you really save a few dollars in the end or did it cost you thousands from liability along with a priceless reputation?

Let’s take things a step further.  In a car accident, the only ones found liable are the driver, the potential employer and/or owner of the vehicle; however, in a tractor trailer incident, those who can be found liable include the driver, carrier, owner of the truck, owner of the trailer, shipper, broker/freight forwarder, consignee, loaders, even maintenance and repair companies.(6)

If your business involves transporting hazardous materials, then you have additional responsibilities that others do not.  Not only are you responsible for transporting, using, disposing and storing the materials in a safe and compliant manner, you're also required to pay the applicable costs associated with these actions.  This liability covers those costs associated with the cleanup and containment that are necessary in the event of a spill or release of a hazardous substance.  You are also responsible for the costs of any damages that could result from such a spill.  The Environmental Protection Agency is the federal entity in the United States that oversees these issues.  In addition to the costs noted above, it's also possible that your company will be penalized for the release of the hazardous materials.  In some cases, the cost of these penalties could be as much as $25,000 per day.

Road Scholar knows how vital safe and knowledgeable truck drivers are to the country's economy and your business.  That’s why we transport for some of the country’s largest chemical manufacturers on a daily basis.  Road Scholar’s hazmat certified drivers participate in a training program that keeps them “up to speed” on the latest techniques to prevent accidents and protect hazardous cargo.  Combine Road Scholar’s drivers’ experience with our strict in transit security protocols and the result is a “security officer” behind the wheel escorting your freight.  Want to learn more?  Check out our pharmaceutical, food, hazmat/chemical, high security shipping, and expedited shipping pages.