Exposure to chemicals, fuel, and other toxic substances that are spilled in a hazmat truck accident can have life-altering and potentially fatal consequences for the people involved in the crash as well as bystanders, emergency responders, and people in the nearby community. When accidents involving the transportation of hazardous materials occur, the driver, carrier, mechanics, and others may be held liable for actions that contribute to causing the incident and any personal injuries or wrongful deaths that occur.
Hazardous Materials Defined
Hazardous materials include those which are flammable, explosive, radioactive, corrosive, or toxic. These include automotive and diesel fuel, explosives used in mining and construction, pesticides, cleaning agents, medical waste, and many other substances. In total, there are nine different hazardous materials categories.
From January through November 2017, the Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Materials Administration recorded 3,767 accidents that occurred while transporting hazardous cargo. In many cases, these involved hazardous cargo spilling from the vehicle and creating a significant risk of exposure to those involved in the accident, emergency crews, and other people in the area.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the handling and transportation of hazardous materials. Under FMCSA regulations, drivers are required to properly label their cargo, obey posted signage, adhere to maximum load limits, properly record and track the cargo, and maintain constant vigilance over the cargo at all stages of transport.
Exposure to Hazardous Materials
Flammable materials that ignite can cause significant thermal burns, while exposure to corrosive materials can cause chemical burns. Explosive materials can ignite and cause significant trauma and property damage. In cases where the cargo is toxic or radioactive, exposure can lead to poisoning or radiation sickness. Often, symptoms are not readily apparent and may manifest years after the accident occurs.
Liability for Hazardous Materials Accidents
Carriers of hazardous materials can be held liable for the injuries and wrongful deaths their negligence causes. This includes cleaning up spills to prevent materials from leaking into groundwater. Similarly, truck accident lawyers can pursue claims against drivers whose negligent actions including speeding, driving too fast for conditions, and other behaviors contributed to causing the accident. Others who may be liable include those who overloaded the vehicle, vehicle manufacturers whose design defects made the vehicle unsafe to transport the cargo, or mechanics whose shoddy repairs contributed to causing the accident.