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What Makes Wrecks Involving Hazardous Cargo in Texas So Complex?

How Accident Cases Involving Hazmat Trucks Work

According to the United States Department of Transportation, almost 3 billion tons of hazardous materials are transported in this country annually. These tanker trucks are an important part of commerce in this country, but what happens when they cause accidents and injure drivers?

If you have been injured or lost a loved on in a tanker truck collision accident or injured as the result of a hazardous spill from a tanker truck's cargo, you likely know that you have legal rights to seek compensation and hold the negligent driver responsible. But you need to know exactly what your rights as an injured person are, what needs to be done to protect those rights, and what makes spill cases different.

Questions Answered in This Article:

  • What is the difference between a truck carrying hazardous materials and a tractor trailer?
  • Are accidents involving trucks carrying hazardous materials different?
  • What rules apply to truck drivers carrying hazardous materials?
  • Do truck drivers carrying hazardous materials have different insurance requirements?
  • How can a lawyer help?

Tanker trucks and tractor trailers accidents: What's the difference?

Tractor trailers haul the types of goods that we typically think of when we talk about the trucking industry. They carry things like furniture, packages, building materials, produce and other tangible items. The cargo in a tractor trailer is typically solid and, as long as the truck is packed properly, the load is quite stable. Obviously, there is the possibility of further injury in an accident if the contents of the tractor trailer are dislodged and fall onto the roadway. However, even if that does occur, the cargo from a tractor trailer is typically not in liquid form, and can often be removed with relative ease. Further, regular cargo is usually visible on the road way and other drivers will at least have the opportunity to avoid colliding with it.

Unlike the cargo an 18-wheeler hauls, the cargo in a tanker truck is fluid and often less stable. Tanker trucks transport fluids of all types, from something as harmless as milk to materials as dangerous as corrosive chemicals, oil, and gas. Because they are in liquid form, the contents of a tanker truck can slosh around, causing a shift in the truck's center of gravity. This shift can make it difficult for the driver to maintain control when making turns or maneuvering through traffic.

If a tanker truck hauling liquid cargo is in an accident and the tank ruptures, or is compromised in any way, the liquid cargo could spill out onto the roadway, increasing the possibility of injury, not only from the crash itself, but from the spill of the hazardous cargo. The spillage can injure the passengers in a vehicle, as well as the tanker truck, through exposure to toxic fumes or corrosive chemicals.

Why accidents with trucks carrying hazardous materials are different than other truck accident.

Injuries from 18-wheeler accidents can be relatively straightforward. In the majority of 18-wheeler accidents, injuries to the victim result from the impact of the crash itself, either from being hit by the 18-wheeler or the semi-truck hitting something else, which then strikes the victim's car. In these accidents, broken bones, sprains, neck injuries, concussions, and other such injuries resulting from the force of the impact are commonplace.

You can still be injured in a tanker truck accident in many of the same ways as in an accident with an 18-wheeler. For example, a driver may fail to take his load into account and not brake soon enough, leading him to plow into the back of a car just as he would if he were hauling paper.

Unfortunately, with tanker truck accidents, victims are often hurt from exposure to the hazardous liquids being transported, rather than the truck itself. If a crash causes the cargo to ignite and there is an explosion, or noxious fumes escape when the cargo tank is compromised or ruptured in the accident, victims can sustain uniquely horrendous damage. Injuries from hazardous spills can be catastrophic, because they are often permanent and can prevent you from returning to work or the lifestyle you enjoyed before the accident. Bodily contact with hazardous chemicals can cause serious skin burns, blindness if the chemicals come in contact with your eyes, organ damage, or even death if the chemicals are ingested.

Further, the chemicals that are being transported are often oil based or slippery, which may lead other vehicle's tires to lose traction with the road and crash into the disabled tanker or other vehicles on the roadway. Therefore, even though other cars theoretically have enough time to brake, their actual ability to do so could be fatally compromised by a hazardous spill.

An attorney will help you by proving you're injured and that the accident wasn't your fault. The opposing attorneys and their insurance carriers will always claim that you could have avoided the accident entirely, or at least done something "smarter" to avoid the injuries or deaths endured. It never ceases to amaze us when we see the lengths to which defendants will go to invent reasons why our victims are actually in the wrong, even as they languish in pain from their losses.

Industry Rules and Regulations for Trucks Carrying Hazardous Materials

Transporting hazardous materials in this country involves compliance with both state and federal laws and regulations. Some of these rules regulate:

  • The highways in which these materials can be transported
  • Types of materials that can be transported through a certain area because of the population density
  • Time of day certain hazardous materials can be moved

Further, even truckers with fully up-to-date commercial driver's licenses must have extra training and certifications to transport hazardous substances.

In fact, the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) have adopted rules to secure the transport of hazardous materials, including explosives based on the requirements of the Patriot Act. These rules require a security threat assessment on all commercial drivers transporting hazardous materials. The process includes:

  • Collection of an individual's fingerprints
  • Verification of citizenship, immigration eligibility or permanent legal presence in the United States.

In accordance with these guidelines, Texas will not allow a driver to obtain a commercial driver's license with a hazardous materials endorsement unless they have first completed the security assessment and have obtained clearance from TSA.

Because of the risk involved in the transport of hazardous materials such as gasoline, corrosive chemicals, and nuclear waste, trucking companies are required to have certain minimum levels of insurance coverage. Federal law mandates a minimum of $750,000 in coverage, while Texas adds $250,000 onto that for a total of $1 million. For tanker trucks carrying hazardous cargo, the minimum coverage increases to $5,000,000. Because these vehicles are so heavily insured, they are also very heavily defended. While it is a good thing there is a potential source of compensation from which to draw that is sufficiently funded to cover your claims, the consequence of such a large insurance policy is that the defendants will likewise have unlimited resources in which to defend you from getting that money.

But one main reason that they defend their case so aggressively goes beyond their concerns about having to pay you. If an accident is found to be the trucking company's fault, not only will they have to compensate you, but the blemish on their record may also cost them future business. Statistical data is compiled on a yearly basis to track the number and type of accidents trucking companies transporting hazardous materials are involved in, and this data can be a determining factor in whether a trucking company is eligible to bid on or receive contracts. Admission of fault for accidents and insurance payouts can directly affect a trucking company's bottom line and profitability, so they are going to aggressively defend any accident claims brought against them.

How an a truck accident attorney help?

Make no mistake: these are not fender-bender car accident cases we're talking about here. Correctly handling a complex injury or death case like this will frankly be impossible to do alone. The trucking company, its insurance company, and their lawyers have an automatic advantage because it's their industry and because they've got the resources and incentives to fight you for the long haul. The trucking industry and its lawyers leave nothing to chance, so neither should you.

The trucking company will have its lawyers do whatever they can to limit or even eliminate the trucking company's liability for your claims and leave you with nothing. You need someone on your side to help hold them accountable for the injuries their tanker truck or hazardous spill has caused. The trucking company took on the risk in transporting hazardous materials, not you. There is no reason you should have to suffer for their negligence or go at this alone.The attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have 25 years of experience dealing with these cases, and we're here to help. Give us a call at (855) 326-0000.

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