Dangers of Hazmat Truck Accidents
On their own, truck accidents are dangerous enough. The effects can be even greater when the truck is carrying hazardous materials. A Hazmat truck accident can cause serious injuries when the cargo spills onto the roadway or causes the truck to catch fire or explode.
Hazmat trucks are considered so dangerous that special handling and licenses are necessary. However, the trucking company responsible for transporting hazardous materials does not always exercise the proper amount of care.
If you or a loved one have been injured in a hazardous materials truck accident, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Call Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers to begin your truck accident case by scheduling a free consultation today.
Hazardous Materials Are Shipped by Truck Throughout the Country
According to Department of Transportation statistics, there were almost three billion tons of hazardous materials shipped in 2017. This number will keep growing so long as the domestic energy production industry continues to grow.
A large proportion of these hazardous materials are shipped using trucks and other vehicles. Despite their dangers, it is necessary to use the roads to transport hazardous materials because the nation's economy needs this to function.
Hazardous materials are shipped in specially-designed tanker trucks. These vehicles are smaller than a tractor trailer and have their own safety features designed to ensure that cargo can be safely loaded and carried.
The Hazardous Materials That Truck Drivers Transport
Petroleum products are the largest class of hazardous cargo that trucking companies transport on the nation's highways. When you are on practically any long highway trip, you will see a number of oil tankers.
These are special trucks that are filled with things like motor oil and gasoline, delivering them to service stations across the country. Even though these shipments pose great risks to passenger vehicles that share the road, they are necessary for commerce.
It is up to trucking companies to take the safety steps necessary to keep everyone else safe.
Here are other hazardous and toxic materials that may be found in Hazmat trucks:
- Jet fuel
- Aluminum powder
- Chemical compounds
- Non flammable compressed gas
- Blasting agents
- Corrosive materials
- Flammable solids
- Lithium batteries
- Infectious substances (such as infectious biological materials for disposal)
- Activated charcoal
- Organic peroxides
- Rat poison
Roughly 80% of the Hazmat materials shipped on U.S. roads are flammable liquids. Nonetheless, each of these categories of hazardous materials are dangerous on their own, and they carry their own unique risks. It goes without saying that blasting agents will cause significant damage and injuries if they ignite and explode.
Causes of a Hazardous Materials Truck Accident
In practically every accident involving hazardous materials trucks, there is someone to blame. Although the study was performed in China, one research survey found that roughly 75% of Hazmat truck accidents involved some type of human error.
The second most prevalent cause of Hazmat trucks accidents is a defect in the truck itself. When that occurs, an accident victim and their family can sue the manufacturer of the truck in a product liability lawsuit.
Driver error is the most common cause of crashes. Truck driver mistakes can include the following:
- Over or understeering to cause a tanker rollover
- Distracted driving
- Fatigued driving
- Failure to perceive road conditions (mistakes often made by less experienced drivers)
The Dangers of Hazardous Materials
They are called hazardous materials because they pose a risk to other vehicles and their drivers if they escape the truck or ignite in a truck accident.
The serious risk is that these trucks are carrying spontaneously combustible materials. If the truck driver loses control of the truck or is involved in a collision, these substances can ignite or explode and cause a fiery crash that impacts both other drivers and people living in the general area.
Hazmat truck accidents have been known to cause chemical leaks that have required evacuations of entire areas.
Federal Laws for Transporting Hazardous Materials
The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) has special rules for Hazmat trucks, given their dangerous nature. Federal law imposes far stricter requirements on these vehicles.
Hazmat trucks need a special permit to transmit hazardous materials, which much be maintained in the vehicle at all times.
If they are carrying radioactive materials or explosives (such as detonating devices), they need a special approved route plan, that they must follow. In addition, drivers must communicate with the carrier at the beginning and end of their routes.
In addition, Hazmat drivers also need to obtain a special license to operate these trucks. Besides background checks, there are special requirements. A Hazmat truck driver has more stringent licensing requirements than the usual tractor trailer operator.
In addition, there are more serious consequences for them when they violate laws such as alcohol and substance abuse regulations.
Further, the general rules of transporting cargo also apply to Hazmat trucks. The trucking company must ensure that the cargo is secured properly before heading onto the road, following the detailed federal regulations.
The Dangers of Hazardous Materials
Any type of tanker truck has its own unique safety risks. Liquid itself (even those that are not flammable liquids) can present dangers.
The liquid can move around while the truck is operating and change the balance of the truck, increasing the risk that the truck may overturn. The problem is even worse when the tanker truck is not fully loaded because the liquid will move around more during operation.
Many of these petroleum products and other materials are highly flammable. If they escape the truck, they will quickly burn with the slightest spark that often occurs in auto accidents.
Injuries in Hazmat Auto Accidents
Accident victims will suffer serious injuries, and even death in a Hazmat truck crash or incident. These injuries may be worse than those sustained in a typical auto accident.
Here are some of the common injuries that accident victims may suffer:
- Broken bones
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Neck and back injuries
- Internal injuries, such as organ damage and internal bleeding
In addition, the flammable liquids that the semi truck is carrying raises the risks that drivers may suffer serious burns if they ignite or explode. Burns are catastrophic injuries that mean lifelong pain, discomfort and disfigurement for the victim.
Damages in a Hazmat Truck Accident
If you have been injured in a truck accident, the trucking company would be legally responsible to pay the following damages:
- Medical expenses (all past and future medical bills)
- Lost wages
- Property damage
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Disfigurement and permanent scarring
If a loved one has died in an accident involving hazardous materials, your family is legally entitled to wrongful death damages if you can prove that the truck driver was responsible for the accident.
The insurance company is certain to be difficult when it comes to paying you the full amount of your damages. Your personal injury lawyer would need to be involved to negotiate fair compensation for your injuries.
Truck accidents usually involve higher amounts of damages than typical auto accidents, making an experienced truck accident attorney even more critical for your case.
Suing the Trucking Company for Hazmat Truck Accidents
In accidents involving big rigs, the trucking company is legally responsible for the damages that their drivers cause. A truck driver is an agent of the company for which they work. Their actions are considered to be those of the company when it comes to liability.
The trucking company presents injured motorists and their passengers with "deep pockets" from which to recover for their considerable injuries.
Companies that own trucks carrying hazardous materials carry very large insurance policies. They have to, given the considerable risks of hazardous material. The law imposes minimum insurance requirements based on the type of hazardous material that the trucking company is transporting.
It is not uncommon for the trucking company to carry insurance policies with coverage limits up to $5,000,000 for Hazmat truck accidents. If the insurance policy is not enough to cover your damages, you can go after the trucking company and its assets to pay for your injuries.
Contact a Truck Accident Lawyer Today
If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident involving hazardous materials, our law firm can help. Your free step is to call us at (888) 424-5757 or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.
Our legal services will not cost you anything unless we are able to help you win your case. Our attorney client relationship is based on trust and hard work.
Contact a determined truck accident lawyer today to begin the legal process. Hold the trucking company accountable for their carelessness and cutting corners that have injured you.