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Hazmat Truck Accident: Legal Rights & Compensation for Injuries

On their own, truck accidents are dangerous enough. The effects can be even greater when the truck is carrying dangerous 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 not always exercises the proper care.

You may be entitled to financial compensation if you or a loved one have been injured in a dangerous materials truck accident. The personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC will review your compensation case and offer immediate legal advice.

Call our truck accident lawyers at (888) 424-5757 to begin your truck accident case by scheduling a free legal consultation.

hazmat-signs-back-of-tanker-truck

Hazardous Materials Are Shipped by Truck Throughout the Country

According to Department of Transportation statistics, almost three billion tons of hazardous materials were shipped in 2017. This number will keep growing as long as the domestic energy production industry continues to grow.

Many of these corrosive materials are shipped using semi-trucks and other vehicles. Despite their dangers, it is necessary to use the roads when carrying hazardous materials because the nation's economy needs this to function.

Specially-designed tanker trucks carrying hazardous materials are often smaller than a tractor-trailer and have their own safety features designed to ensure that cargo can be safely loaded and carried. These truckers must carry a hazardous cargo certification to transport liquid toxic gases and other dangerous liquids.

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 special trucks are filled with things such as motor oil and gasoline, delivering them to service stations across the country. 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
  • Nonflammable compressed gas
  • Blasting agents
  • Corrosive materials
  • Flammable solids
  • Lithium batteries
  • Infectious substances (such as infectious biological materials for disposal)

Roughly 80% of the Hazmat materials shipped on US roads are flammable liquids. Nonetheless, each category of hazardous materials is dangerous on its own, and they carry unique risks. It goes without saying that blasting agents will cause significant damage and injuries if they ignite and explode.

Causes of Hazmat Accidents

There is someone to blame in every truck accident involving hazardous materials.

Although the study was performed in China, one research survey found that roughly 75% of Hazmat truck accidents involved some human error.

The second most prevalent cause of Hazmat truck accidents is a defect in the truck itself. When that occurs, an accident victim and their family can sue the truck manufacturer 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
  • Speeding
  • Distracted driving
  • Fatigued driving
  • Failure to perceive road conditions (mistakes often made by less experienced drivers)

The Dangers of Hazardous Materials

Hazardous materials pose a risk to other vehicles and drivers if they escape the truck or ignite in a truck accident.

The serious risk is that these semi-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 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 Carrier 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 must be carried 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.

A Hazmat truck driver has more stringent licensing requirements than the usual tractor-trailer operator. In addition, they have more serious consequences 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 detailed federal regulations.

The Dangers of Hazardous Materials

Any tanker truck has its own unique safety risks. The 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 truck's balance, 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, which often occurs in auto accidents.

Significant 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 carries raise the risk 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 for paying 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 can certainly be difficult when paying your damages. Your personal injury lawyer would need to be involved in negotiating fair compensation for your injuries.

Truck accidents usually involve more damage 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, and their actions can help determine liability involving the trucker, business, and other employees.

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 the trucking company is transporting.

It is common for the trucking company to carry insurance policies with coverage limits up to $5,000,000 for Hazmat truck accidents. If the insurance policy does not cover your damages, you can go after the trucking company and its assets to pay for your injuries.

Hazmat Truck Accidents FAQs

Our personal injury attorneys understand that many families have unanswered questions when dealing directly with an insurance company after being involved in a Hazmat truck accident.  an injury accident attorney has answered some of those questions below.

What are the most common truck accident cases involving trucks transporting dangerous materials?

The most common truck accident cases involving trucks transporting hazardous materials involve driver negligence, such as fatigue, improper vehicle maintenance, speeding, and distracted driving.

A dangerous environment can also lead to an accident if the vehicle is overloaded or traveling on roads that are unsuitable for trucks carrying hazardous materials. Human error and mechanical failure are also potential factors in these accidents.

What is considered Hazmat for trucking?

Hazmat, short for hazardous material, is a type of cargo that requires special precautions due to its potential danger to human health or the environment. Hazmat can include flammable liquids, corrosive substances, poisonous gases, explosives, and radioactive materials.

Truck drivers who transport Hazmat must observe strict safety regulations and be trained in recognizing and handling potentially dangerous shipments.

What are the eight steps to handling a Hazmat incident when trucks transport hazardous materials?

The eight steps to handling a Hazmat incident are:

  • Establish a secure perimeter
  • Contain the leak or spill
  • Prepare for evacuation or decontamination if necessary
  • Monitor the situation and protect the public from potential exposure
  • Use personal protective equipment (PPE) as needed
  • Collect samples of the material for testing
  • Clean up the hazardous material according to safety protocols
  • Dispose of any contaminated waste materials safely

What damage does environmental exposure do to parties involved in a trucking accident?

Environmental exposure can cause various health issues for those involved in a trucking accident. These include respiratory illness, skin irritation, eye irritation, liver damage, and cancer.

Also, releasing hazardous materials into the environment could lead to contamination and pollution, affecting wildlife, plants, and people nearby.

In some cases, victims may suffer long-term effects from exposure, such as neurological disorders or changes in hormone levels due to chemical disruption.

What kind of hazardous material leaks in a Hazmat accident?

The type of hazardous material that can leak in a Hazmat accident can vary widely depending on the type of incident. Commonly leaked materials include:

  • Toxic materials
  • Radioactive materials
  • Infectious substances
  • Flammable solids
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Asbestos fibers
  • Motor oil
  • Spontaneously combustible materials
  • Toxic gas
  • Non-flammable compressed gas
  • Jet fuel (leaking airborne substances)

Spills may sometimes involve a combination of substances or mixed materials. It's important to take accurate notes and have personnel trained in handling these materials nearby during an incident to ensure proper disposal and safety precautions.

Typically, occupants in vehicles directly involved in the accident suffer great harm, as do anyone in a semi-truck or passenger car in the crash.

Any vehicle fire involving Hazmat materials could result in chemical burns, and respiratory problems from the toxic gas released when the accident happened.

Contact a Truck Accident Lawyer

If you or a loved one have been injured in an accident involving hazardous materials, our law firm can help. Call us at (888) 424-5757 to schedule a free consultation.

At Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC, our legal services will not cost you anything unless we can 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.

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