In 2016, 122,870 large truck crashes occurred in the United States, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Motor Carrier Management Information System data. The statistics equate to every single person living in a mid-sized city having a wreck involving a large truck. Of those crashes, 61,729 injuries occurred, and 3,597 people lost their lives.
Many of the drivers in those crashes relied on defective cab guards to protect them. For drivers carrying cargo especially prone to shifting – like logs, poles or metal coils – the reliance on their cargo securement systems and protection products is even more dire. They are more likely to pay the ultimate price for a defect and continue to do so despite ample evidence and litigation proving the cab guards they rely on to keep cargo from shifting are defective.
As Beasley Allen discovered through litigation, most cab guards would not stop one average-sized log during a hard braking incident, much less an actual crash.
In 2003, a jury awarded a $12 million verdict to Donna Blair, whose son, Tim Blair, was killed while driving a log truck when a cab guard failed to protect him from his shifted load after two of the truck’s tires left the road. “Shockingly, the manufacturing company claimed and advertised that its cab guard met minimum federal standards and provided maximum protection, even though it clearly did not,” said Ben Baker, one of the team of Beasley Allen lawyers on the case. “The company never tested the model cab guard on Tim’s truck.”
Most recently, a jury found in favor of the family of Larry Albritton, who was killed Oct. 7, 2013, when a load of logs shifted during a crash. The logs breached the truck’s cab and struck Albritton, resulting in his death. The jury determined that the cab guard on the truck was defective and also found that Merritt Equipment Co. acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others in the way it designed, manufactured and provided warnings related to its cab guards and, therefore, did not protect Albritton as it was supposed to do.
When discussing the case, Beasley Allen lawyer LaBarron Boone explained the firm’s goal: “It is our hope that this verdict will send a message to these and other companies that ensuring their drivers’ and the public’s safety is more important than their bottom line.”
Merritt now has a warning on its website stating, “This drom is NOT A SAFETY DEVICE and will NOT PREVENT SERIOUS INJURY or DEATH from forward shifting cargo as a results of an accident or impairment.” The online warning was placed after a jury awarded $16.8 million in Larry Albritton’s death case. However, as previously noted, it remains unclear if that warning is properly passed along to the trucking companies when they are sold new cab guards or to the drivers so they can protect their own safety.
In addition, the warnings do not address the hundreds of thousands of cab guards that Merritt sold prior to 2005 or any cab guard sold by another company.
“These guards are supposed to be indestructible, so it’s highly likely that many of the Merritt guards sold before 2005 are still being used and are still giving drivers a completely false sense of security,” LaBarron said. “No notices have been sent to past purchasers, no recall has been issued. The public remains largely unaware of the dangers of the defective products, and the manufacturers continue to place profit over protection.”
A bulkhead, part of the cargo securement system used at the front of a trailer rather than the back of a cab, is by far a safer option for log truck drivers – and yet they are rarely used. Because the bulkhead would be in direct contact with the cargo, the cargo is immediately stopped from shifting, whereas cab guards allow cargo to pick up speed and strike with more force. Bulkheads are also considered a part of a truck’s cargo securement system as a front-end structure, which has specific minimum standards set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration cargo securement regulation 393.114, “The front end structure must be designed, constructed, and maintained so that it is capable of resisting penetration by any article of cargo that contacts it when the vehicle decelerates.”
More specifically for log trucks, regulation 393.116 states, “All vehicle components involved in securement of logs must be designed and built to withstand all anticipated operational forces without failure, accidental release or permanent deformation.”
Even a cab guard made out of steel instead of cheaper, deteriorative aluminum offers better protection, but cab guard companies continue to neglect testing and proper design in favor of profit. “The warnings are a welcome step in the right direction for protecting unsuspecting log truck drivers who think they are safe, but not nearly far enough,” LaBarron said. “Drivers will continue to lose their lives as a result.”
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FMCSA 393 Regulations
FMCSA Cargo Securement