Tractor-Trailer Accident Cases: Do Not Overlook the Tractor-Trailer that Exceeds the Maximum Weight Limit
In an effort to haul as much materials or cargo as possible, tractor-trailers often are loaded to their maximum capacity. The massive size and weight of such tractor-trailers present unique issues when they are involved in collisions with other vehicles. For example, fully loaded or over-loaded tractor-trailers: (1) require long stopping distances; (2) are difficult to control when traveling downhill; (3) can put undue stress on brakes, causing bake failure; and (4) are more prone to roll-overs. The trial lawyer handling an injury or death case in a tractor-trailer collision should pay particular attention to the size and weight of the tractor-trailer and determine if the tractor-trailer is in violation of the maximum weight limits.
Each state has its own size and weight restrictions for trucks. In virtually every state, the maximum weight limit for tractor-trailers is 80,000 pounds. In Virginia, the weight limitations of trucks are not to exceed the weights listed in Va. Code Section 46.2-1126, computed for certain distances between the first and last axle of the vehicle and for any two or more consecutive axles. This statute provides a comprehensive table with the various weight limits. Va. Code Section 46.2-1127, among other things, limits the gross weight for tractor-trailers traveling on interstate highways to 80,000 pounds. Va. Code Section 46.2-1128 provides for overweight permits for trucks, up to 84,000 pounds for tractor-trailers. However, such overload permits are only valid on Virginia state roads and not interstate highways.
In cases in which the tractor-trailer is in violation of the maximum weight limit and such violation contributed to the crash, the trial lawyer handling such a case may include a count of negligence per se. Additionally, such a violation may provide a basis to establish liability of the shipper who knowingly overloaded the tractor-trailer with its materials. The trial lawyer should routinely propound discovery requests designed to ascertain if there was a weight limit violation, including requests or subpoenas for the loading records, weight tickets, and weight records. Such discovery may indeed result in powerful evidence for the injured victim.