Towing: Liability for Overweight Loads

April 1, 2013

Those towing are responsible for and must have knowledge of the load being transported, including its weight.  Overloading a truck can affect its braking and steering, leading to potentially fatal accidents.  An overloaded truck goes slower on upgrades, faster on downgrades, and when the brakes are forced to work too hard, they may fail.  If the weight of the trailer is greater than that of the towing vehicle, there is a great likelihood of a loss of control, especially when traveling downhill.

If you are involved in an accident while towing an oversized load where people were injured, you have exposed yourself to liability for negligence for towing beyond your vehicle’s maximum capacity.  The federal weight limit for an 18-wheeler without an overweight permit is 80,000 pounds.  Truck drivers must inspect the cargo prior to the trip, unless the load is sealed and the truck driver has been instructed not to break the seal. In the event that the cargo is sealed, however, the driver must still obtain relevant payload characteristics.

Vehicle owners should check the towing capacity specified by the vehicle manufacturer. All too often, however, vehicle owners fail to properly understand their truck’s maximum weight-carrying capacity. As an example, a vehicle owner who think their pickup can tow up to 12,000 pounds often misses one small detail: the difference between “weight-carrying” and “weight-distributing” maximum towing capacities. 

If your trailer is hooked to a standard hitch instead of a weight-distributing hitch, as is often the case, the truck’s maximum weight-carrying capacity was probably a lot closer to 6,000 pounds than 12,000-plus. A vehicle’s weight-distributing towing capacity will always be significantly higher than the weight-carrying towing capacity.  Almost every ad shows a truck at or very near its upper limits. This leads the average buyer to believe their vehicle can do the same without the use of any additional towing equipment or accessories.

If you tow beyond the manufacturer’s limits you are treading on very thin legal ice.  Understanding your responsibilities differences is critical if you intend to tow in a safe and prudent manner.  Towing beyond any vehicle’s manufacturer’s weight ratings-or without regard to the properly equipped limitations a vehicle’s manufacturer places on the towing vehicle relates directly to the law of negligence and places may expose you to liability.

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