Blog Post

What Happens When a Truck Is Overloaded?

June 29, 2022 / Truck Accidents

Huge semi-trailer trucks are already extremely heavy and require much longer braking distances than do cars and SUVs. But when these trailers are overfilled beyond what federal regulations allow, it prompts a person to ask, “What happens when a truck is overloaded?”

In Indiana, maximum allowable gross weight for semis, with load, is 80,000 pounds (IN Title 9 Article 20). There are a few exceptions. The following maximum weights also apply:

  • Maximum single axle weight is 20,000 pounds
  • Maximum tandem axile weight is 34,000 pounds
  • Maximum tri-axle weight is 50,000 pounds.

Additionally, the maximum wheel weight is 800 pounds per inch of tire width measured between the flanges of the rim.

For anything beyond these maximum weights, a driver or trucking company must secure a permit from the Indiana Department of Revenue (IDR) and meet other requirements. For further information on these overload permits, visit the IDR website at

Except for interstate travel, some large vehicles are exempt from Indiana size and weight requirements, including:

  • Farm drainage machinery
  • Equipment used in highway construction/maintenance by the Indiana DOT, municipalities, or counties
  • Recovery when moving a disabled vehicle for a distance not exceeding 50 miles (must also meet requirements of IC 9-20-9-9 and IC 9-20-9-10)
  • Firefighting equipment owned or operated by a volunteer fire department or a political subdivision
  • A farm vehicle loaded with agricultural product, including leaf tobacco
  • Implements of husbandry (animals) when used during farming operations.

What Can Occur When a Vehicle Is Overloaded?


When a large truck is dangerously overloaded, several catastrophic things can happen. These include:

  1. Trailers jackknife and truck drivers lose control of their rig.
  2. Semis roll over during sharp turns, causing havoc on interstates and other roads.
  3. The braking distance of big rigs increases dramatically, raising the likelihood of rear-end catastrophic crashes.
  4. Trailer loads can shift internally, causing trucks to tip over.

When truck drivers lose control of their semis because the trailers are overloaded, several injuries can occur to occupants of other vehicles on the road, as well as injuries to the truck drivers themselves. These include:

  • Head trauma and TBI
  • Broken bones
  • Internal bleeding
  • Organ damage
  • Thermal burns
  • Neck, back, and spine injuries
  • Paralysis and amputation
  • Wrongful death.

How Do You Know If Your Truck Is Overloaded?

The State of Indiana has laid out rules governing weight limits for vehicles. In 1975, Indiana adopted the “Bridge Formula” (IC 9-20-40-1). The formula is used to calculate the legal maximum gross weight/axle weights allowed for a vehicle:

W = 500 {[(LN) ÷ (N-1)] + 12N + 36}
W = the gross weight on any group of two or more consecutive axles to the nearest 500 lbs.
N = the distance between the longest measurement taken between wheel hub centers of any group of two or more consecutive axles
N = the number of axles (with the exception of two consecutive sets of tandem axles carrying a load of 34,000 pounds each) providing the first and last axles of the consecutive sets of tandem axles are at least 36 feet apart or greater.

The U.S. government also has its own federal Bridge Formula. Federal law has weight limits articulated by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Freight Management and Operations. There are also federal standards for width and length on the network of America’s interstate roadways.

How Do Trucks Get Overloaded?

There are many reasons trucks can be overloaded. Semi-trailers can be loaded with too many consumer goods because loaders are inexperienced, incompetent, or are being forced by trucking companies to crowd too many boxes and goods into trailers. Illegally overpacked trucks pose a serious hazard because they can cause crashes with other passenger vehicles. Events that compound dangerously overloaded trucks include driving on a steep grade, tire blowouts, wet or icy roadways, and sharp curves on an interstate. Trucking companies sometimes have financial incentives to overload trucks because they’re in a hurry to transport as many goods as possible to market and make deadlines. Also, their truck scales can be inaccurate, defective, or poorly maintained. Whatever the reason, trucking companies’ negligence can cause disaster for unsuspecting motorists on the road.

Why Choose Stephenson Rife to Represent You?

Stephenson Rife has a remarkable reputation for winning truck accident lawsuits and securing the largest payouts possible. Attorney Mike Stephenson possesses more than 40 years of legal experience and has won several large personal injury claims totaling multiple millions of dollars. The legal team at Stephenson Rife includes Attorney Brady Rife, too, who takes case preparation seriously and prepares every lawsuit as though it may go to trial. Not surprisingly, we have lots of satisfied clients.

The overloaded truck accident lawyers at Stephenson Rife have won many large settlements on behalf of injured clients who have suffered after truck crashes. Some of our largest settlements include:

  • $48.5 million in a case that involved 60 depositions in 5 different states.
  • $2 million in a case where a passenger in a vehicle was injured when struck by a delivery truck.
  • $250,000 in a case where a young woman sustained severe injuries when a semi-truck pulled out in front of her vehicle.
  • $6.5 million for a victim with brain injury in a garbage truck accident.
  • $3.97 million for a family of a man killed in a tractor trailer crash.

Our skilled overloaded commercial truck accident lawyers know how to gather evidence, interview witnesses, analyze legal statutes and case law, and build successful legal claims.


We Won $48.5 Million in a Truck Accident Case

In this case, we took more than 60 depositions in five different states. Because of Stephenson’s tireless advocacy, shortly before the trial was to commence, the defendants settled the case for $48.5 million.

Stephenson Rife Will Fight for Your Rights

If you or a loved one has been injured in an overloaded truck accident, you may be entitled to financial compensation. This is especially true if the truck driver and/or trucking company were negligent. The truck accident attorneys at Stephenson Rife will fight for your rights and secure the maximum damages possible. To find out more about how we can help, call us at (317) 680-2350.

Attorney Brady Rife

Attorney Brady Rife has developed a diverse civil litigation practice for plaintiffs throughout Indiana. Brady is heavily involved in serious personal injury matters, complex business and commercial disputes, and insurance litigation in state and federal courts. Some of the firm’s most successful cases include winning a $48 million settlement against a large corporation in a fatal vehicle crash in New Mexico and a $14 million dollar settlement against a national trucking company in Illinois. The firm handles cases across the United States. [ Attorney Bio ]

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