Unsecured car and truck loads are a serious problem endangering drivers in every state, including Massachusetts. When driving on the highway, cars and trucks can be seen hauling objects, such as mattresses, ladders or pieces of furniture. There is a good chance that this cargo is improperly secured, especially where the car or truck is non-commercial, posing a serious hazard to other motorists if it falls or flies free. For example, such debris might collide with other vehicles, distract nearby drivers or, when cars swerve or stop to avoid hitting it, cause a collision. Any one of these scenarios can lead to property damage, injuries or even death.

Most recently, the failure of a motorist to properly secure cargo caused such a tragic accident. On January 28, 2013, a woman traveling on Route 128 in Burlington was killed after she abruptly stopped her vehicle to avoid hitting a mattress that had flown off a truck traveling in front of her, causing another vehicle to crash into the rear of her car. The police are still searching for the vehicle that lost the mattress as it appears the driver did not stop when the accident occurred.

Similar accidents are an all too common occurrence. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010, there were about 51,000 crashes–including almost 10,000 injured persons and 440 known fatalities–involving a vehicle striking an object that came off another vehicle or a non-fixed object lying in the roadway.

While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulates the securing of cargo on commercial vehicles, similar federal regulations for non-commercial vehicles do not exist. States determine what laws, if any, to apply to securing cargo on non-commercial vehicles. In Massachusetts, M.G.L. c. 85, §36 provides that “No person shall drive or move a motor vehicle on any way, as defined in section one of chapter ninety, nor shall the owner or bailee of any vehicle require or permit the same to be driven or moved on any such way, unless such vehicle is constructed or loaded so as to prevent any of its load from dropping, sifting, leaking or otherwise escaping therefrom, and, if it is loaded with sand, gravel, loam, dirt, stone, rubbish or debris that could fall on other vehicles or on the highway and create litter or potential hazards to other vehicles, unless its load is fully and adequately covered.”

Violations of this statute are considered to be civil motor vehicle infractions and carry a penalty of up to $200.00.

In addition to this motor vehicle infraction, a driver who fails to properly secure their cargo may also face civil liability for any accident, injury or death caused by debris that falls from their vehicle. Even if a driver is not cited for violating M.G.L. c. 85, §36, a jury in a civil case may use the violation as some evidence that the driver negligently secured their cargo resulting in debris flying or falling into the path of nearby motorists and causing or contributing to a collision resulting in injury or death. Even if the negligent driver is never identified, as may be the case for the recent Burlington accident, an injured motorist may look to their own automobile insurance policy for compensation. Uninsured motorist coverage provides insurance when a driver, or their household member, is injured in an accident and the responsible party is unable to be identified.

SUGARMAN has experience in cases like this and can help. If you are injured by a driver’s failure to properly secure their vehicle’s cargo prior to entering a public way, you may be entitled to compensation. Please fill out a Contact Form, call us at (617) 542-1000 or e-mail info@sugarman.com.