XIII. Other Types of Accidents Related to Commercial Vehicles

Below is the thirteenth chapter, “Other Types of Accidents Related to Commercial Vehicles,” of Understanding Motor Carrier Claims, Sixth Edition, a book from Fried Goldberg LLC, about the complexities of truck accident litigation. Plaintiff’s attorneys can request a complimentary copy. If you have any questions and would like to speak with an Atlanta, Georgia trucking accident attorney, contact us today. 

Previous Chapter: XII. Handling a Trucking Case

Next Chapter: XIV. Principles of Accident Reconstruction in Commercial Vehicle Cases 

A. Forklift Accidents

There are two different types of forklift accidents that can occur during the process of loading or unloading a tractor-trailer. The first type of accident involves the tractor-trailer rolling away from the loading dock while the forklift is attempting to enter or exit the trailer. In this scenario, the forklift falls in between the loading dock and the trailer causing the operator to become injured from the force of the impact of hitting the ground. The second type of accident involves the floor of the trailer collapsing or having the landing gear collapse on the trailer when there is no tractor under the trailer and the trailer tipping to one side. The forklift operator may be injured by the impact or the broken wood of the trailer or from having his arm crushed between the forklift and the trailer.

OSHA regulations require that chocks be placed under the tires of a tractor and the parking brake set when loading a trailer that is attached to a tractor by forklift. “The brakes of highway trucks shall be set and wheel chocks placed under the rear wheels to prevent the trucks from rolling while they are boarded with powered industrial trucks.” OSHA regulations generally apply to the employer and its employees at the loading dock which would place the duty on the forklift driver to make sure the wheels are chocked and the parking brake is set.” However, most loading docks have signs and general practices in place that the truck driver is supposed to set the brake and chock the tires. The presence of such a practice would place a common law duty on the truck driver to follow the instructions at the loading dock, and a jury would have to weigh the comparative negligence of the forklift operator in failing to follow OSHA regulations with the truck driver’s failure to follow industry standards. Many loading docks have also gone to mechanical devices that lock into the trailer that make it impossible for the trailer to roll away from the loading dock to alleviate the need for chocks.

The scenario may also exist where the truck driver attempts to pull away from the loading dock before the forklift operator is finished loading or unloading the trailer, and the forklift falls in between the dock and the trailer. Each loading dock has its own policies and procedures that dictate when the loading or unloading process is complete and the signals that are given to the driver to show that he is authorized to drive away from the dock. These policies can include a green or red light in front of the driver, the placement of cones in front of the vehicle until the loading or unloading process is concluded or other similar measures. When the driver leaves the loading dock prematurely, the only issue in the case is whether the facility failed to follow the appropriate procedure in place for notifying the driver or whether the driver failed to follow the signals given by the facility.

In addition to the trailer rolling or moving away while attached to a tractor, the trailer can also have a structural or mechanical defect where the floor of the trailer collapses under the weight of the forklift or the landing gear collapses causing the trailer to tip forward or to the side if it is not attached to a tractor when it is being loaded or unloaded. The trucking company and driver are required to perform various inspections on the trailer to look for structural issues with the trailer, but it is often difficult to see a problem with the floor unless there are pieces of wood that are missing from the floor or holes in the wooden floor. If the landing gear is bent or rusted out, it should be caught on a visible inspection. The landing gear will often be difficult to raise and lower if there is a problem with the gears inside the leg. Most loading facilities have jockey trucks that move the trailers around and may damage the landing gear by dragging it on the ground. If the problems with the trailer could have been discovered based on a visual inspection, then there exists a claim against the truck driver who dropped the trailer and the owner or operator of the trailer for failing to perform appropriate inspections on the trailer.

If the problem with the trailer could not have been discovered with an appropriate inspection, then the only avenue of recovery is a claim for a breach of warranty against the owner of the trailer. Most jurisdictions recognize that the owner of the trailer warrants that the trailer is fit for the purpose for which it is being used, i.e., has no structural defects that would affect the ability to load the trailer with a forklift. This warranty may be disclaimed by contract between the trailer owner and the loading facility. If the warranty has not been disclaimed, then the forklift operator can bring an action for breach of warranty for having a structural failure with the trailer.

Practice Pointer

Forklift cases are not easy because of the OSHA regulations placing a duty on the forklift operator to chock the tires. Make sure you can show that the truck driver and trucking company were responsible for chocking the tires under the practices at the loading dock or were responsible for the issue that led to the accident.

B. Garbage Truck Accidents Involving Pedestrians

The main issue with garbage trucks is dealing with pedestrians who may be in the area where the garbage truck is being operated. The garbage truck is a slow-moving vehicle that makes frequent stops within areas that are highly populated. The garbage truck operator is often required to back up in parking lots and streets without much visibility or space. Garbage trucks are usually equipped with a camera system that allows the driver to see the areas behind the truck. If the cameras are not operating correctly, the driver may not be able to see pedestrians to the rear of his vehicle. Any mechanical issue with the backup camera can be the basis of a negligence claim, and the camera should be inspected after a pedestrian accident to make sure it was operating correctly.

Some garbage trucks are equipped with mechanical arms. The operator sits on the right side of the vehicle and has no other employee with him and instead relies on a joystick to operate the mechanical arm which picks up the can and dumps the contents into the back of his vehicle. The operator has to be certain that all pedestrians are clear of the area in order to make sure no one is struck by the mechanical arm or garbage can during this process.

Most garbage trucks are equipped with warning alarms when the truck is backing up or the arms on the truck are lifting a dumpster. In a pedestrian accident, the garbage truck company will argue that the alarm should have warned the pedestrian to move away from the garbage truck. However, it is unclear of the ability of the pedestrian to actually hear the alarm over other background noise and to appreciate that the alarm is indicating that the garbage truck is coming towards them versus just be operated in the general area. People are used to hearing noises and beeps and alarms and are not expected to run from the scene without some other indicator that they are in danger. In addition, the alarm system should always be tested after the accident to see if it actually was working at the time of the incident.

Practice Pointer

Always inspect the cameras and backup alarms on the garbage truck as soon as possible after a pedestrian accident.

C. Disabled Passengers on a Transit Bus

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires transit companies to make reasonable accommodations for disabled passengers on buses or through other special mobility vehicles to provide them with an acceptable means of transportation. Many jurisdictions place a duty of extraordinary care on the transit company or require the transit company to exercise the highest degree of care to protect the passengers from injury. Most transit companies have surveillance videos on their buses to provide oversight and monitoring of the bus operators. These surveillance videos usually provide first hand evidence of what happened in an incident.

There are numerous policies and procedures and industry standards that govern the appropriate way to assist disabled passengers. The transit company should have training material that instructs its drivers on how to provide assistance to disabled passengers and how to comply with the ADA. The main issues that arise in providing assistance is helping people up and down the stairs, assisting wheelchair patrons or people who have severely impaired mobility onto the bus by using the automated lift platform and securing them into their seats, and helping passengers with mental or visual impairments. The bus operator should always be out of his seat helping the passenger or being near them whenever a passenger is getting onto or off of the bus.

Practice Pointer

Make sure to put the bus company on notice of the need to preserve the surveillance videos on the bus as soon as possible.

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