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What Is Cargo Shifting in Semi Truck Accident

What Is Cargo Shifting in Semi Truck Accident

In 2020, nearly 5,000 large trucks were involved in fatal accidents, marking a 33% increase in less than ten years. Government agencies have evaluated and increased trucking regulations in the 21st century. Accidents still occur, often when someone fails to adhere to these regulations.  

The purpose of a semi-truck is to transport cargo across the country. That cargo, however, can pose one of the biggest dangers to truck drivers and others on the road.

What is cargo shifting in a semi-truck accident? Who is held liable when cargo shifting occurs? What should you do if you were involved in an accident caused by cargo shifting?

Your Houston, Texas semi-truck accident lawyers are here to tell you. Read on to learn more about cargo shifting and how it might impact your semi-truck accident case. 

Federal Regulations of Load Securement

As we mentioned earlier, the federal government is in charge of regulating things like load securement for semi-trucks. This is, in large part, because a lack of regulations was leading to dangerous or careless practices that threatened truck drivers and others on the road.

To be more specific, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published cargo securement laws in 2002 that went into effect in 2004. These laws regulate the types of securement equipment used in semi-trucks as well as the procedures used to secure cargo loads.

Why is this significant? If you were involved in a semi-truck accident caused by shifting cargo, it is probable that the load did not meet these regulations. This gives you solid legal ground to file a claim against the responsible party who failed to uphold FMCSA standards when loading the truck. 

Why Load Shifting Is Dangerous

Why did the federal government step in to regulate cargo load securement? Load shifting presents serious dangers that can cause accidents and fatalities. Let’s take a closer look at some of the common results of load shifting.

Lost Loads

If a load isn’t properly secured, it could cause the container to come loose from the truck cab or force open the container doors. When loads are lost from a semi-truck, they can spill into the road and hit surrounding cars, causing serious accidents. This can be especially dire if the truck is carrying hazardous cargo (like gasoline), which accounts for approximately 4% of semi-truck cargo. 


Proper securement of cargo doesn’t just prevent it from detaching from the truck cab. It also keeps it from shifting inside of the container, which can cause the truck’s center of gravity to shift. If this occurs while a truck is turning or driving on a winding road, it can cause the truck to overturn, posing a serious threat to the driver and surrounding vehicles or pedestrians.


Maintaining proper weight distribution and keeping the cargo from sliding around is an important part of preventing jackknifing. Jackknifing is a term that refers to the cargo container swinging away from the cab at a high speed, rather than remaining in line. If a semi-truck with an unsecured load brakes quickly, jackknifing can occur. 

Lane Departures

Because load shifting changes a truck’s center of gravity, it makes the truck harder to control. This can cause trucks to drift out of their lane, hitting other cars or running them off the road. If this occurs on a bridge, it can cause the truck and other cars to get swept off of the bridge, which often results in serious injuries, permanent disabilities, and fatalities. 

Rear-End Collisions 

If a truck driver brakes but the load is not secure, it can shift forward into the front of the cargo container. Semi-trucks are carrying heavy loads, and the momentum of this forward shifting can cause the entire truck to move in a forward direction and rear-end the car in front of it. Even a mild rear-end collision involving a semi-truck can cause significant property damage and injuries due to the weight and size of the truck.

Who Is Liable for Load Shifting

Many clients assume that the driver was automatically responsible for load shifting. While this is sometimes the case, not all semi-truck drivers are responsible for securing the cargo they are carrying. Let’s take a look at how to determine who was liable for an accident caused by load shifting.

The Driver

Many truck drivers are legally responsible for the freight or cargo they carry. It is often their responsibility to oversee the loading of the container or, at the very least, to inspect the interior of the container to ensure that FMCSA regulations are met. If the driver of the truck was responsible for inspecting the load before operating the truck, it is the driver’s insurance you will file your claim against, as the driver is liable for load shifting.

The Trucking Company

Similarly, trucking companies are often responsible for the freight or cargo carried by their drivers. In other words, the driver may not have to inspect the container before hitting the road, but a designated trucking company employee should carry that burden of responsibility. If the trucking company was responsible for inspecting the load before the truck driver began transportation, you will file your claim against the company’s insurance. 

The Shipper

Some truck drivers are providing transportation for the shipper, who loaded the container and sealed it without the driver’s inspection. In these cases, the drivers are not responsible for the securement of the load, and often weren’t allowed near the container before it was sealed. If a shipper was responsible for loading the container and securing it, you will file your claim against the shipper’s insurance. 

What to Do if You Were Injured in a Load Shifting Accident

If you were recently injured in a load shifting accident, you’re probably wondering what to do next. It is more than likely that you will need to file a claim against the liable party to recover the damages you are owed. First, you will need to complete the following steps. 

Document the Accident if Possible

If you or a loved one do not require emergency medical attention, document the accident to the best of your abilities. Make sure that someone calls the police so that you can include the police report in your claim. 

In addition, take pictures and videos of the scene of the accident from several angles. Talk to any other victims or witnesses who have stopped at the accident scene and exchange information.

When exchanging information with the truck driver, say as little as possible. Never admit fault or say things like, “That wasn’t your fault.” Collect the information and leave.

Seek Medical Attention

Even if you don’t require emergency medical attention, you need to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Don’t go home after the accident. Make an appointment with your doctor or, if this is not possible, head to your local emergency room.

There are two reasons for which you should seek medical attention ASAP. The first is that many semi-truck accident injuries go undetected in the hours after the accident. This can include injuries like internal bleeding, broken ribs, head trauma, and more.

The second is that your medical records will become key in your semi-truck accident claim. You will need to establish the extent of your injuries as well as the need, if any, for future medical treatment. Without the appropriate medical records, you will not be able to prove that your injuries are serious and that you deserve compensation.

Contact a Lawyer

Many accident victims are tempted to file a claim without consulting a lawyer, first. This is not recommended for several reasons, first and foremost, that navigating personal injury law requires knowledge and expertise that only experienced lawyers can provide.

As we mentioned earlier, you are not filing a claim against the liable party, i.e. the truck driver or the shipper. You are filing a claim against the liable party’s insurance company, and insurance companies tend to have ruthless attorneys of their own on retainer. These attorneys have one goal: to reduce your settlement by any means necessary.

Before you file your claim, find a lawyer to represent you. Ideally, you should never interact with the defense team without a lawyer’s presence and representation. 

O’Hara Law Firm Will Take on Your Semi-Truck Accident Case

Cargo shifting is a leading cause of semi-truck accidents and can turn a minor accident into a major one. If you were injured in a semi-truck accident resulting from cargo shifting in Houston, Texas, it’s time to contact an experienced lawyer. O’Hara Law Firm is here to help.

Don’t let injuries and other damages dictate your life. Contact us to tell us more about your case so that we can begin to get your life back on track. 

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