Accidents With Trucks Carrying Hazardous Materials

July 5, 2015

Accidents With HAZMAT Trucks Pose Additional Risks for Victims

The size of a truck plays a part in the severity of a wreck, but what a truck is carrying can have an even bigger impact. Large tanker trucks and 18-wheelers are a regular sight on Illinois roadways, and some of them are marked with colorful, diamond-shaped placards that mean they are carrying potentially dangerous substances that pose a risk to health and safety. When these trucks get involved in accidents, the results can be especially tragic—and it can have a far-reaching impact on drivers, passengers, bystanders, and communities.

What Is HAZMAT?

HAZMAT is short for “hazardous materials,” and the term is used throughout the transportation industry to describe items or substances that are potentially harmful to people, plants, and animals. According to the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) Global Supply Standards, the types of substances classified as hazardous materials include:

  • Toxic substances
  • Cancer-causing substances
  • Irritants and corrosives
  • Combustible items or substances
  • Unstable or explosive materials
  • Chemicals that release dangerous dust or fumes when handled
  • Radioactive materials
  • Anything that is considered a physical or health hazard

Some specific examples of materials that might fall under one of these categories include:

  • Chemicals for commercial uses
  • Gases, whether compressed or liquid
  • Fuels and oils
  • Pest control agents
  • Paint, varnish, and similar items
  • Dyes
  • Cleaning and disinfecting products

Because of the additional threat to public health and safety, trucks that carry hazardous materials are held to higher standards and more regulations than trucks that don’t come with the same kinds of risks. For example, these more stringent regulations require trucks carrying these materials to inform certain authorities and label their trucks appropriately, among many other rules for safe transport. But what are the real risks of these large vehicles and their cargo?

Why Are Accidents With HAZMAT Trucks Potentially More Dangerous?

The Analysis Division of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released a report that showed that:

  • Four percent of large trucks involved in fatal accidents had hazardous material placards, and two percent of the trucks involved in non-fatal accidents had placards.
  • In 15 percent of the placarded trucks involved in accidents, the hazardous materials were released during the incident.
  • In fatal crashes, 48 percent of those releases were flammable liquids, such as fuel. For non-fatal crashes, 56 percent were flammable liquids.

While wrecks involving HAZMAT trucks may not be common, they can be very dangerous and negatively affect many lives. While a collision with an 18-wheeler is already a potentially tragic event, the addition of flammable fuels, possible explosions, and dangerous fumes can add to the injuries and death. In some cases, the hazardous cargo that is released during an accident may not even have an immediate effect on health, but could create risks—such as cancer or lung issues—for victims later in life.

What Causes HAZMAT Accidents?

HAZMAT accidents are caused by the same kinds of issues that cause other accidents, but the addition of hazardous materials can especially be a problem with:

  • Overloaded or improperly loaded trucks
  • Rollover accidents
  • Reckless driving and driver errors
  • Any collision that punctures a tanker truck or causes it to spill its load

Sometimes, there is no way to predict or prevent a serious accident. However, in other cases, accidents happen because a HAZMAT driver ignored the rules of the road or a company chose to overlook one of the numerous safety regulations in place for trucks transporting hazardous materials. The companies that use trucking fleets to move potentially dangerous materials from place to place have a duty to the public and the people they share the road with to make safety a priority. When they fail to do so, and a HAZMAT truck spills its load over an already serious accident scene, the victims of the accident may be able to launch a claim for financial compensation.

How Can I Get Help If I’ve Been Hurt in an Accident With a Vehicle Carrying Hazardous Materials?

Just like in any accident with a large truck, the trucking company often has the advantage over uninformed victims. While trucking companies may have experience defending themselves against claims from victims, victims don’t generally have experience holding trucking companies responsible for severe and disabling injuries.

If you have been involved in an accident with a tanker truck that spilled hazardous cargo, you have a limited time to get informed about your rights and how to protect them. Before you sign any documents or give a statement to the insurance company, consider talking directly with an attorney who is familiar with the laws and regulations involved. The team at Lane & Lane has extensive experience helping seriously injured people across the state of Illinois recover compensation from large companies and transportation services after an accident. For more information and a free case review, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at 312-332-1400.

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