The extreme differences in size and weight between a large commercial truck and a smaller passenger vehicle mean that any accident involving the two can have disastrous results for the smaller car and its occupants, who are likely to sustain catastrophic injuries. When the commercial truck is transporting hazardous materials, the risk of serious injury is even higher due to the risk of a cargo spill. Despite the strict licensing, registration, training, and other regulations imposed on hazmat trucking companies by the Department of Transportation (DOT), hazmat trucks are involved in hundreds of accidents, many of them fatal, across the country each year.
What Do Hazmat Trucks Carry?
The three billion tons of hazardous cargo transported each year by hazmat trucks include:
- Flammable solids
- Compressed gases
- Blasting agents and other explosives
- Lithium batteries
- Activated charcoal
- Oxidizing materials
- Radioactive substances
- Corrosive materials
- Organic peroxides
- Flammable liquid petroleum products like gasoline, motor oil, and jet fuel
Because of the safety threats these products pose in the event of an accident, hazmat trucks may travel only at certain times of day and on certain roads to reduce potential danger to motorists and residents living near highways.
Solid vs. Liquid Hazardous Materials
While solid hazardous materials must be carefully loaded and secured inside the trailer of a hazmat truck, hazardous liquids transported by tanker trucks can shift inside the tank, affect the truck’s center of gravity, and cause jackknife and rollover accidents. Spillage of such cargo results in fires, explosions, slippery road surfaces, and exposure to toxic substances, all of which can cause catastrophic injury or death. Spills of flammable liquids, which make up three-quarters of all hazardous materials shipments, lead to most hazmat truck crash fatalities.
Hazmat Truck Crash Injuries
In addition to sustaining common truck crash injuries like broken bones, lacerations, whiplash, internal bleeding, spinal cord damage, and traumatic brain injury, victims of hazmat truck wrecks can suffer severe burns, exposure to poisons, and respiratory damage from inhaling toxic fumes. If you’re injured in a crash with a hazmat truck, you’re entitled to file a claim with the trucker’s and/or the trucking company’s insurer for your damages: medical bills, property damage, lost income, and pain and suffering. If you’ve lost a loved one in a hazmat truck crash, you may file a wrongful death claim on behalf of the deceased victim.
Causes of Hazmat Truck Crashes
Despite the rigorous training, background checks, and special driver’s license endorsements required of hazmat truck drivers by the Department of Transportation (DOT), most hazmat crashes are caused by negligence on the part of the trucker, including:
- Speeding or reckless driving, especially when rounding curves in the road
- Drowsiness or fatigued driving
- Lack of proper hazmat training
- Distracted driving due to cell phone use, eating, drinking, smoking, adjusting a radio, or looking at a GPS device.
The second most common cause of hazmat truck crashes is faulty equipment (a leaky tanker truck, for example) or mechanical failure due to defective equipment like brakes or steering systems.
There May Be More Than One Liable Party
In most accidents between two passenger cars, one party is likely to be primarily at fault, and the victim generally files an insurance claim for damages against one defendant. In an accident caused by a commercial truck, however, more than one party might share responsibility for the crash:
A truck driver whose negligent operation of a hazmat truck caused the wreck is primarily liable for resulting damages.
The Trucking Company
If the driver is employed by a company that violated hazmat regulations, failed to provide adequate training, did not properly maintain the truck, or put a truck with defective equipment on the road, that company could bear partial responsibility for your accident.
The Truck Owner or Leasing Agency
If the truck is owned by or leased from a third party, the owner or leasing agency has a duty to make sure the truck is in safe operating condition, so it could be partially liable for your accident.
A Mechanic or Repair Service
If the truck involved is maintained or serviced by a third party, that party could also be partially at fault for your crash.
If the accident was caused by mechanical failure or defects in the truck or in replacement parts used on the truck, the truck or parts manufacturer could be held liable.
Cargo Loading Personnel
Proper loading and securing of cargo transported by hazmat trucks are vital for safety. If the parties who loaded the truck were negligent, you could have a claim against them, as well.
Filing claims against multiple defendants can be overwhelmingly complicated, especially if you’re recovering from the severe injuries that normally result from a truck crash. For this reason, the services of an experienced truck accident attorney are highly recommended if you’re injured in a hazmat truck wreck.
How Your Attorney Can Help You
A truck accident lawyer can help you seek fair compensation for your damages by:
- Mounting a thorough investigation of your accident and calling in an accident reconstructionist or other expert witnesses to help establish liability for your crash
- Identifying multiple defendants and determining the percentages of fault borne by various parties, each of whom might be insured by a different company
- Consulting with your doctors to determine the overall cost of your present and future medical care and put a dollar amount on your pain and suffering
- Sending a spoliation letter to the trucking company to prevent it from erasing data pertaining to your wreck from the truck’s “black box” recorder, dashboard camera, or other onboard recording devices.
- Filing insurance claims demanding appropriate compensation from each defendant
- Negotiating for fair settlements
- Filing multiple lawsuits if reasonable awards are not offered.
While most truck accident claims are settled out of court, having an attorney who’s willing to go to trial if necessary gives you strong leverage against each defendant.
How You Can Help Your Attorney
If you’re physically able to do so after your wreck, you should move to safety, call 9-1-1 to report your accident, take photos of the scene and all vehicles involved, exchange information with the other driver but do not discuss the accident, get contact information from any witnesses, seek medical attention even if you don’t feel that you are seriously injured, notify your own insurer of the crash, and consult a truck accident lawyer. Do not apologize or admit any fault to anyone for anything.
Have You Been Injured in a Hazmat Truck Accident?
If you've been injured in a Florence car accident you should speak with a car accident lawyer as soon as possible. Contact us online or call our Florence, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.7540 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Charleston, Conway, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach or North Charleston office locations.