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Why You Should Secure Your Cargo on Georgia Roads
Welcome back to our blog series on negligence per se and how it applies to Georgia’s rules of the road!
If you’re just joining us, negligence per se is a legal concept that states that all people have a duty to follow all safety rules at all times. This is important in civil cases, because in order for someone to be liable for damage they’ve caused, that person must have behaved in a way that a reasonable person wouldn’t in the eyes of the court.
Under negligence per se, breaking a safety rule, any safety rule, including any of the rules of the road, automatically counts as unreasonable behavior. So, a rule-breaker is automatically liable for any damages caused by their rule-breaking, with no room for argument about subjective ideas of reasonableness.
Last week, we talked about how this applies to statute 40-6-242, which has to do with overloaded vehicles that disrupt the driver’s vision or control. This week, we’ll talk about statutes 40-6-248.1 and 40-6-254, which address a different kind of loading issue: inadequately secured cargo.
Cargo Must Be Secured Against Both Accidents and Littering
Statute 40-6-248.1 requires all cargo to be tied down securely enough to prevent it from falling out of a vehicle or changing positions in any way that might be dangerous.
(a.1) No vehicle shall be driven or moved on any public road unless such vehicle is constructed or loaded or covered so as to prevent any of its load from dropping, escaping, or shifting in such a manner as to:
(1) Create a safety hazard;
Even if there’s no obvious danger to other drivers, passengers, or pedestrians, littering by allowing cargo to fall out of a vehicle is also illegal under 40-6-248.1.
(2) Deposit litter on public or private property while such vehicle is on a public road.
The definition of “litter” is found in a different statute, as this one notes,
(a) As used in this Code section, the term “litter” has the meaning provided by paragraph (1) of Code Section 16-7-42.
But it’s a simple enough definition to remember. “Litter” is waste material that has been abandoned on public or private property.
Everyone Involved in Loading or Moving the Vehicle Is Responsible
The rules of securing cargo apply both to the driver and to the person loading the vehicle.
(b) No person shall operate or load for operation, on any public road, any vehicle with any load unless such load and any covering thereon is securely fastened so as to prevent such covering or load from:
(1) Becoming loose, detached, or in any manner becoming a hazard to other users of the public road; or
(2) Depositing litter on public or private property while such vehicle is on a public road.
If the cargo is being moved around professionally in the course of business, the company that controls the vehicle or its driver is also bound by statute 40-6-248.1. It doesn’t matter whether that cargo load is made up of DVD players or gasoline, the company moving it is responsible for making sure it doesn’t spill.
(c) No motor carrier shall allow a commercial motor vehicle to be driven and no person shall operate a commercial motor vehicle with a load that is not secure. Loads shall be secured as required by state and federal law, rule, and regulation. As used in this subsection, the term “load” shall include loads consisting of liquids and gases as well as solid materials.
In short, everyone who plays a role in moving cargo from one place to another on the road has a duty to make sure it’s securely fastened.
Federal law takes precedence over statute 40-6-248.1 if they ever conflict.
(d) Nothing in this Code section nor any regulations based thereon shall conflict with federal, Department of Public Safety, or Board of Public Safety regulations applying to the securing of loads on motor vehicles.
That said, federal regulations are actually stricter and more thorough, specifying a minimum number of tiedown points and minimum breaking strength for fastenings on certain loads. If a driver can’t follow the basic requirements of 40-6-248.1, it’s unlikely they’ll find any leniency by looking to the federal level.
There are a few exceptions built into 40-6-248.1, however. Vehicles that are intended to drop materials during use, like paving trucks, are allowed to do so.
However, this Code section shall not prohibit the necessary spreading of any substance in public road maintenance or construction operations.
Farm vehicles are also exempt from 40-6-248.1 while transporting animal feed or produce, so long as they don’t create a safety hazard or drop any non-organic materials.
(e) The provisions of paragraph (2) of subsection (a) and paragraph (2) of subsection (b) of this Code section and regulations based thereon shall not apply to organic debris that escapes during the transportation of silage from field or farm to storage and storage to feedlot or during the transportation of agricultural or farm products or silvicultural products from farm or forest to a processing plant or point of sale or use.
For example, a whole truckload of oranges spilling onto the freeway would be likely to cause an accident, but a few pieces of hay flying loose are okay.
Consequences of Driving a Vehicle with an Unsecured Load
Although statute 40-6-248.1 doesn’t mention it, loading or driving a vehicle with improperly secured cargo is a misdemeanor in Georgia. This is noted in 40-6-254 instead.
No person shall operate any motor vehicle with a load on or in such vehicle unless the load on or in such vehicle is adequately secured to prevent the dropping or shifting of such load onto the roadway in such a manner as to create a safety hazard. Any person who operates a vehicle in violation of this Code section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
If the unsecured cargo causes an accident, the driver is also liable for the damages under negligence per se, along with whoever loaded the vehicle and the company they work for, if applicable.
What Damages Can You Recover After an Accident Caused by an Unsecured Load?
If you’ve been injured in an accident caused by cargo falling off of another vehicle, you’re entitled to compensation for your losses. Losses caused by an accident can take the form of either special damages or general damages, and in most cases, accident survivors will suffer some of both. We’ll go over the difference between the two below.
Special Damages Can Be Expressed in Dollars and Cents
Any way in which your accident has directly impacted your finances counts as an example of special damages. Medical bills are among the most common special damages, along with vehicle replacement and lost income. In order to claim special damages, you’ll need to present thorough documentation of your expenses and prove that they were directly or proximately caused by the unsecured load on the other vehicle. To learn more about the difference between direct cause and proximate cause, click here. It’s a good idea to get a lawyer’s help with this, partly because you’ll need to calculate not just your expenses so far but your likely expenses in the future. In most cases, once you’ve received a settlement, you won’t be able to ask for more money if your recovery takes longer or becomes more complicated than you expected, so it’s important to plan ahead.
General Damages Are Priceless
Although your settlement for both special and general damages will ultimately boil down to a number, there’s a difference between losses that can be cleanly reimbursed and those that can only be crudely compensated for. For example, if you missed one week of work at a job you only do for the money, one week’s pay can completely make up for that loss. On the other hand, if you love your career, no amount of money can perfectly make up for the experiences you missed out on. And if you spent some of your missed work hours having broken bones reset, no amount of money can perfectly make up for the pain you went through, regardless of your feelings about your job. These non-financial consequences of an accident are classified as general damages, and just because they can’t be expressed in exact numbers, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be taken into account when determining your total settlement. It’s even more important to have a lawyer to help with pursuing the general damages part of your settlement, because the value of general losses is subjective, and the total can be very different depending on the skill of your advocate.
What If the Spilled Cargo Caused a Death?
If you’ve lost someone to an accident caused by unsecured cargo, your case is one of wrongful death. The Wetherington Law Firm can help you find justice for your lost loved one, but the rules for this kind of case are a little different from those for personal injury. You can learn more about wrongful death here.
Why Do I Need a Lawyer?
Nobody should have to enter into the litigation process without an expert in their corner, and you can be certain your opponent will have professional representation. That’s because your opponent in a traffic accident case isn’t really the other driver; it’s that driver’s insurance company, or their employer’s insurance company. The main purpose of auto insurance is to cover liability, meaning the at-fault driver’s insurance company owes you compensation for that driver’s negligence. Unfortunately, insurance companies maximize their profits by paying out as little as possible, and many maintain full-time legal departments in order to do so. If you have to interact directly with an insurance company that owes you compensation, their goal will be to get you to say something that hurts your case, so they can get away with paying less than you need to cover your losses. Having a lawyer to handle this for you shields you against costly errors. A good lawyer can also make the process go more smoothly, minimize stress, and argue for your interests so you don’t have to.
How to Hire the Best Car Wreck Lawyers in Atlanta
If you’re ready to learn more about your options following an accident, we’d love to hear from you. You won’t owe us a thing, not for an initial consultation, and not for anything else until we win you your settlement.
We work exclusively on a contingency basis, which means our only payment is a percentage of the compensation we win for our clients. You have nothing to lose by working with us and plenty to gain, statistically speaking, compared with what unrepresented accident survivors usually receive.
To get started, just give us a call at 404-888-4444, or reach out through the contact form on the right.
Looking for More than Compensation? The Wetherington Law Firm Understands
There’s nothing more meaningless than an apology that doesn’t lead to change. If you want to make sure your accident won’t just be one more in an endless pattern, we want to help. For example, if it was a commercial vehicle that spilled its cargo, we’ll look into that company’s safety regulations and past incidents, to make sure they’re not systematically overloading their vehicles or rushing the loading process. If they are, we’ll push for improved policies as well as compensation for you. To learn more about how we’ve helped other clients make the world a safer place, just give us a call and ask.