Commercial trucks transport a wide range of products, including clothing, produce, paper products, and building materials, to customers across the country. Tanker trucks are responsible for carrying fluids in the form of oil, gas, or corrosive chemicals from one location to another. Oftentimes, the material inside these trucks can be extremely hazardous. According to the Department of Transportation, tanker trucks transport close to three billion tons of hazardous materials each year. If one of these trucks is involved in a traffic accident and the hazardous material spills onto the road, or noxious fumes escape into the air, it can cause devastating injuries. The contents of the truck can cause a range of serious health issues, some of which can be fatal. If someone is injured in a truck accident involving hazardous materials, a dedicated truck accident lawyer will determine who is responsible for causing the accident and secure the financial compensation the victim deserves.
What Makes Hazmat Truck Accidents Particularly Dangerous?
Owing to the massive size and weight of the average truck, most truck accidents cause extensive property damage and severe injuries. However, if the truck involved in the accident is carrying hazardous material, the situation can be far more dangerous for the following reasons:
- Hazmat trucks that are carrying a liquid can cause dangerous, slippery road conditions if the contents of the truck spills onto the road. If the hazardous material is oil based, the roads can become extremely slippery and cars can lose traction. This can quickly turn into a multi-vehicle accident if other cars in the vicinity lose control.
- Truck drivers who are carrying solid goods can make sure that the cargo is loaded correctly and properly secured so it does not shift or move during the trip. If a tanker truck is carrying a liquid, the truck’s center of gravity can be thrown off when the liquid moves. This can increase the risk of a rollover or jackknife accident.
- If an accident occurs, the material may leak or spill out onto the road, exposing motorists to the hazardous gas or liquid that was inside the truck. Depending on what type of material the truck is transporting, it can cause serious injuries and health issues, in addition to the injuries caused by the collision.
What Types of Hazardous Materials Do Trucks Carry?
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), there are nine classes of hazardous materials, including the following.
- Explosives: These are materials that can cause an explosion or become blasting agents or detonating devices.
- Gases: Flammable, non-flammable, and toxic gases are included in this category.
- Flammable liquid: Examples include gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, kerosene, and ethanol.
- Flammable solids and spontaneously combustible materials: This category includes materials such as activated charcoal, aluminum powder, and magnesium, as well as other household materials.
- Oxidizers and organic peroxides: These materials can cause other materials to combust. Some organic peroxides can be explosive.
- Toxic materials and infectious substances: These include poisonous materials that are not gases or infectious biologic materials.
- Radioactive materials: These hazardous materials can have a devastating impact on the environment for hundreds of years. Special handling and management are required.
- Corrosive materials: These materials include strong acid and base materials that can burn and corrode.
- Miscellaneous: This includes a range of other materials, including lithium batteries, which can be flammable and explosive under certain conditions; and dry ice, which lowers the percentage of oxygen in the air, causing asphyxiation under certain circumstances.
What are Specific Examples of Hazardous Materials?
The following are examples of flammable, toxic, radioactive, explosive reactive, or corrosive materials that are considered hazardous:
- Battery fluid
- Blasting agents
- Certain medicines
- Compressed gases
- Display fireworks
- Explosive devices
- Flammable and non-flammable gases
- Fuel oil
- Infectious substances
- Organic peroxides
- Poisonous and toxic gases
- Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
- Radioactive materials and waste
- Spontaneous combustibles
Rules for Truck Drivers Who Transport Hazardous Materials
Truck drivers who transport hazardous materials have to follow the same rules and regulations that all truck drivers must follow, as well as additional regulations that are specific to carrying hazardous cargo. Truck drivers carrying hazardous cargo must adhere to the following rules:
- The driver must place signage on the outside of the truck to warn other motorists that they are carrying hazardous materials. These trucks should have placards placed on all sides of the truck.
- The hazardous material must be handled properly; this includes safe loading and storing procedures.
- Drivers should avoid roads where transporting hazardous materials is prohibited. Also, they must follow all roadway laws and rules about where hazardous trucks may park. Drivers should not park within five feet of a public road.
- Certain types of hazardous material must be monitored.
- Drivers carrying hazardous material must have the appropriate training and education on how to safely haul the cargo, as well as the packing process, transportation rules, and safety techniques.
What Types of Injuries Result from Hazmat Truck Accidents?
Truck accidents are known for causing devastating injuries, including spinal cord injuries, traumatic brain injuries, amputations, internal organ damage, and other injuries that can have a permanent impact on the person’s quality of life. Accidents that involve trucks carrying hazardous materials can cause additional injuries, including the following:
- Serious burns: If the material on the truck causes a fire or explosion, the accident can cause serious burn injuries to the truck driver, the drivers and passengers in other vehicles, and first responders who arrive at the scene. Explosions often cause third-degree burns that lead to permanent disfigurement or death. Other serious burns can occur if the truck’s wet lines, the pipe used to load fuel on and off of the truck, are damaged in a collision, spilling up to 50 gallons of fuel on the road. If a spark or some other flame source reaches the gasoline, it can cause a fire of up to 5,000 square feet, resulting in severe burn injuries and fatalities.
- Injuries caused by toxic fumes: Fumes can travel miles from the accident site, particularly if there are strong winds. This can expose many people to toxic gases that can irritate the skin and eyes. In some cases, they can cause respiratory and neurological conditions that do not have treatment options available.
- Other injuries include organ damage and blindness.
Who is Liable for Hazmat Truck Accidents?
Truck accidents differ from regular car accidents when it comes to liability issues because there are multiple parties that may be responsible. This also applies to truck accidents involving hazardous materials. Although it might be assumed that the truck driver is liable for injuries resulting from a truck accident, there are other parties that may be liable as well, including the following:
- Trucking or shipping company
- Company responsible for the truck maintenance
- Trucking manufacturer
- Company responsible for loading the truck
- Company that manufactured the hazardous material
Determining the liable party will depend on the specific detail of the accident. For example, if the hazardous material was not packaged safely or the manufacturer did not properly identify the material as hazardous, that company may be held liable for the accident. If the trucking company did not train the truck driver on how to safely handle and transport hazardous material, the company may be held liable for the accident.
How can a Truck Accident Lawyer Help?
Truck accidents involving hazardous material tend to be particularly catastrophic, so it is crucial for the victim to have an experienced lawyer on their side who can identify all the liable parties. This is important, particularly if a single party does not have enough insurance to cover the costs associated with the injuries. A skilled truck accident lawyer will also negotiate with insurance companies to reach the best possible settlement. Depending on the severity of the injuries, damages may include the following:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Loss of consortium
- Punitive damages
Freehold Truck Accident Lawyers at Ellis Law Seek Maximum Compensation for Victims of Hazmat Truck Accidents
If you or someone you know was seriously injured in a truck accident involving hazardous materials, contact the Freehold truck accident lawyers at Ellis Law. Our dedicated legal team will thoroughly review the details of your case and determine who is responsible for causing the accident. If multiple parties are liable, we will ensure that you receive the maximum financial compensation you deserve from each party. We will walk you through every step of the claims process and address all your questions and concerns. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 732-308-0200 or contact us online.
Located in Freehold, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout East Brunswick, Toms River, Middletown, Jersey City, Neptune, Hudson County, Union County, Essex County, and Ocean County, as well as Brooklyn and New York, New York.