Recently, a safety regulator in Canada reviewed our firm’s efforts to expose the safety defects in heavy truck cab guards. Tim Birkett, an Occupational Safety Officer in Prevention Field Services for WorkSafeBC, thanked Beasley Allen for the information our website provided about the ineffective and dangerous nature of these devices. LaBarron Boone, a lawyer in our Personal Injury and Products Liability Section who handles cases involving cab guards, was contacted by Mr. Birkett.
One of LaBarron’s cases resulted in a cab guard manufacturer, Merritt Equipment Co. (Merritt) being forced to explicitly warn the public that its cab guard, marketed as a safety device, would not protect a truck driver in the cab from being injured or killed by forward shifting cargo. In fact, testing that LaBarron commissioned on the cab guard revealed, to his shock, that just one log would break the cab guard, leaving the driver exposed to serious injury or death.
Cab guards were inspired by streetcar fenders and railcar guards, but U.S. patent records show the current design in use wasn’t approved until 1960. The shiny, metal pieces positioned behind the cab of almost every log truck in the United States are purchased with the belief the guards will protect cab occupants from cargo shifting forward and crushing a driver’s cab during a crash.
The devices began to grow in popularity in the 1970s and 1980s when the federal government and other interested parties began evaluating the cause and effect of heavy truck crashes. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the Society of Automotive Engineers soon mandated cab guards be installed on the back of large trucks. But they provided minimum manufacturing standards. This left implementation and compliance with safety requirements up to trucking companies. That diminished the effectiveness of even the minimal standards.
Between 1990 and 1993, New York witnessed nine cargo securement accidents with three fatalities, prompting congressional hearings and the creation of the North American Load Security Research Project. According to the Federal Register, the project was charged “to revise the regulations concerning protection against shifting and falling cargo for commercial motor vehicles engaged in interstate commerce.” Despite the revision, the current design using weak aluminum remains inadequate.
Beasley Allen lawyers, led by LaBarron and Ben Baker, have handled eight defective cab guard cases against three different cab guard manufacturers. A majority of these cases were settled before going to trial. Each case involved a life tragically lost due to a combination of corporate greed and inadequate regulation. Through litigation, Beasley Allen lawyers have been able to shed light on the history of deception within the cab guard manufacturing industry.
For example, during cross-examination by LaBarron, an expert witness for manufacturer Road Gear admitted that cab guards on log trailers were not safe. This admission led to a label change on the product in 2005. Similarly, in 2017, Merritt’s design expert during cross-examination in Albritton v. Merritt admitted the cab guard would not protect a log truck operator from one log let alone protect them against a full load of logs or approximately 55,000 pounds.
Merritt now warns against cab guard use on log or pole trailers. The company further warns that the cab guard “is NOT A SAFETY DEVICE [sic] and will NOT PREVENT SERIOUS INJURY or DEATH [sic] from forward shifting cargo as a result of an accident or impairment.” However, there is no indication the warning is actually passed on to the trucking companies or drivers. Neither does the warning address the hundreds of thousands of cab guards sold before 2005.
The warnings are definitely a welcomed step in the right direction for protecting unsuspecting log truck drivers who believe the cab guards make them safe. But the warnings don’t go nearly far enough. The public remains largely unaware of the dangers of the defective products, and the manufacturers continue to place profit over protection.
For more information about cab guards and heavy truck accidents, contact LaBarron Boone or Ben Baker, lawyers in our Personal Injury & Products Liability Section.
Source: Federal Register
This story appears in the December 2020 issue of The Jere Beasley Report. For more like this, visit the Report online and subscribe.