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Why Are Hazmat Truck Accidents So Dangerous?

Posted on: December 6, 2021

Commercial trucks transport a wide range of cargo, including building materials, paper products, and even cars. When one of these massive vehicles is involved in a truck accident, it can have devastating consequences, particularly to the occupants of the passenger vehicle.

When a truck accident involves an 18-wheeler that is carrying hazardous materials, the results can be catastrophic. In addition to catastrophic injuries and fatalities that could occur, the hazardous materials can spill out onto the highway and expose drivers and passengers to toxic fumes and corrosive chemicals.

Operating a large commercial truck that is filled with hazardous materials can be challenging and even dangerous, depending on the materials that are being transported. Hazardous materials are often transported in tanker trucks, which are susceptible to devastating rollover accidents.

Truck accidents involving hazardous cargo are often more devastating than other truck accidents for the following reasons:

  • If the hazmat truck is carrying a liquid, it can make the road extremely slippery if it spills. When this happens on a busy highway, motorists in the vicinity can lose control of their vehicles, causing a multi-vehicle accident.
  • Oftentimes, hazardous materials are liquids, which can slosh from side to side in the trailer. This can cause the center of gravity to shift, making it difficult for the truck driver to maintain control of the truck. This can increase the risk of a serious rollover or jackknife accident.
  • Exposure to certain hazardous materials can cause injuries that do not appear right away. For example, toxic gases that have been released into the air may cause a range of symptoms, such as burning of the eyes, nose, and throat; headache; blurred vision; and stomach irritation. However, these symptoms may not appear until hours or days after exposure.

What Are the Different Types of Hazardous Materials that Trucks Carry?

Hazardous materials can be dangerous to people, animals, or the environment. Some common hazardous materials that are transported by trucks include:

  • Explosives: These are materials that can create explosions, become projectiles, blasting agents, or detonating devices.
  • Gases: These include flammable and non-flammable gases, including toxic gases.
  • Flammable liquids: Examples include gasoline, motor oil, jet fuel, kerosene, and ethanol.
  • Flammable solids: Trucks also carry flammable solids, such as sulfur, activated charcoal, aluminum powder, and magnesium.
  • Oxidizers and organic peroxides: These are chemical compounds that enhance the burning of other materials.
  • Toxic materials and infectious substances: This class includes rat poison and infectious biological substances, which are pathogens that may cause disability or death if exposed.
  • Radioactive materials: The effect of a radioactive spill can be catastrophic. It can have a devastating impact on the environment and nearby residents for years, decades, and even centuries. When transporting radioactive material, special handling and management protocols must be followed.
  • Corrosive materials: This category includes strong acid or base materials that can burn or corrode.
  • Miscellaneous materials: This includes hazardous substances that do not fall into any of the other categories. Lithium batteries are included in the category because they are highly flammable and explosive under certain conditions.

How Can Hazardous Material Truck Accidents Be Prevented?

The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act gives the Department of Transportation the power to regulate how hazardous materials are transported. Companies that are involved in the transport of hazardous materials must follow strict safety regulations, including properly identifying, describing, labeling, and packaging all materials. They must also be registered with the government, and the appropriate warnings must be posted on the vehicles when necessary.

Employers must provide the necessary training for all truck drivers before they can transport the materials. These steps have been put into place to significantly reduce the risk of a hazardous material truck accident and the devastating injuries and fatalities it can cause.

What Injuries Do Hazardous Material Truck Accidents Cause?

Commercial truck accidents are known to cause very serious injuries; however, when the truck is carrying hazardous materials, there is an even greater risk of injury. Depending on the type of hazardous material and the nature of the accident, injuries may require extensive medical care, hospitalization, and even long-term care. In some cases, the injury can cause permanent impairments and serious health complications.

The following are examples of the types of injuries that can occur in a hazardous material truck accident:

  • Amputations
  • Broken bones
  • Burns, including chemical burns
  • Disfigurement
  • Exposure to carcinogens
  • Eye damage
  • Head trauma
  • Internal injuries
  • Lung damage
  • Neck and back injuries
  • Neuropathy
  • Respiratory conditions
  • Wrongful death

Who Is Liable for a Truck Accident Involving Hazardous Materials?

Determining liability in a hazardous material truck accident can be a complex and overwhelming process. There are a number of parties who may be liable for the accident, including the truck driver, the trucking company, the truck manufacturer, and the company responsible for loading the material. Depending on the circumstances, the driver in the passenger vehicle may also be partially responsible for causing the accident.

Since New Jersey uses a form of comparative negligence, even if you were partly responsible for causing the accident, you may still recover damages. That means you might be eligible to collect financial compensation, even if you were partly to blame.

To proceed with a personal injury lawsuit against a truck driver, you must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the truck driver was negligent. To do this, you must be able to demonstrate the following:

  • The truck driver owed you a duty of care.
  • The truck driver breached the duty of care due to their negligence.
  • The breach of duty caused your injuries.

All truck drivers are required to comply with the state’s safety regulations. If they are in violation of any of these regulations and cause an accident, they may be held liable for the injured driver’s losses. Examples of driver negligence include:

  • Speeding
  • Drowsy driving
  • Distracted driving
  • Driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • Not yielding to the right-of-way
  • Making unsafe lane changes
  • Failure to follow traffic signals

If the truck accident was caused by a defective part, the truck designers, manufacturers, and companies involved in the defective product’s chain of distribution may be held liable, according to strict liability law. These entities can be held liable for the accident regardless of whether they made a mistake that contributed to the accident. Strict liability claims can be based on the following faulty parts:

  • Accelerator pedals
  • Brakes
  • Cargo ties or straps
  • Engine or transmission parts
  • Tires

What Damages Might Be Available?

Injuries and property damage associated with truck accidents are often extensive. When hazardous materials are involved, the injuries can cause serious, long-term health complications. Damages are awarded to help compensate for the injuries and losses caused by another person’s negligence. The following are examples of damages that you may be entitled to in a successful personal injury lawsuit:

  • Economic damages: These are easily quantifiable and include medical expenses, lost wages, and loss of future earning capacity.
  • Non-economic damages: These compensate for non-monetary losses, such as,4 emotional distress, pain and suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life.
  • Punitive damages: These are meant to punish the negligent party for behavior that is considered particularly egregious. Damages are generally awarded at the court’s discretion and will vary based on the details of the case.

Freehold Truck Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Provide Legal Guidance to Clients Injured in Hazardous Material Truck Accidents

If you were seriously injured in a hazardous material truck accident, do not hesitate to contact the Freehold car accident lawyers at Ellis Law. We will thoroughly investigate the cause of the accident and fight to secure the financial compensation for which you are entitled. For a free consultation, call us at 732-308-0200 or complete our online form. We are located in Freehold, New Jersey, and help clients throughout Freehold, East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, Monmouth County, Marlboro, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn, New York, and New York City.