Bagen Law Firm | February 13, 2023 | Truck Accidents
Every day, scores of large tanker trucks travel on roads across the country. Many of these trucks transport hazardous materials to gas stations and factories. Over 400,000 trucks throughout the United States ship hazardous materials. While these trucks play an essential role in the country’s economy, they also make the roads far more dangerous.
Tanker trucks are not only large and heavy, but they often carry hazardous materials. The truck itself can cause serious damage and injuries, and a cargo spill can make the situation much worse. Fires can ignite or toxic chemicals can cause illness to anyone in the vicinity.
If you suffered injuries in a tanker truck accident, you face serious losses and effects on your life. You might have the right to seek compensation for your losses from the trucking company or other parties, so you should seek an evaluation from a truck accident lawyer as soon as possible.
How Tanker Trucks Are Used
Tanker trucks may ship the following substances:
- Heating oil
- Dry goods
Tanker Truck Accidents Can Cause Serious Injuries
Not only are tanker trucks dangerous because they are much larger than other vehicles on the road, but their contents may also present dangers because they are often highly flammable and explosive. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury in an accident with a tanker truck, you should contact an experienced attorney to fight for financial compensation.
Here are some common injuries in tanker truck accidents:
- Broken bones
- Contusions and lacerations
- Organ damage and internal injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Soft tissue injuries
It Takes Special Approvals to Drive a Tanker Truck
Because a tanker truck is uniquely dangerous, not every truck driver can drive one of them. An inexperienced driver who does not know how to handle this truck can cause a devastating accident.
As a result, the Department of Transportation requires a special endorsement to drive a tanker truck:
- Any driver who transports more than 1,000 gallons of any liquid needs the special endorsement
- Drivers need an additional endorsement to transport hazardous materials, such as gasoline
- To transport materials, drivers need to learn skills such as handling a liquid surge in the tanker and performing a pre-trip check for leaks.
- Tanker drivers must also pass a written examination
Tanker Trucking Companies Struggle to Hire Enough Drivers
Although there are specialized requirements and extra training, many of the same risk factors are present with tanker drivers. Even if a driver has the necessary endorsement to operate a tanker truck, they may not be an experienced driver. There is a truck driver shortage, and trucking companies have struggled to fill job openings. The truck driver shortage hits oil tanker truck companies especially hard. Trucking companies claim that they offer increased pay for tanker truck drivers and have had no success filling vacancies.
Some truck drivers may decide that getting a tanker endorsement is a way to earn more money at times, but they need more experience in the area. The result is that tanker truck drivers may need more skill and experience to safely operate the truck, even if they have the tanker endorsement. As a result, other drivers can be in danger whenever they are around a tanker truck on the road.
Tanker Truck Drivers Are Under Time Pressure to Reach Their Destination
In addition, tanker truck drivers are also under time pressure to reach their destination. A tanker truck often carries most gasoline replenishment for a filling station. If they are late, the service station can run out of gas. Not arriving on time will cost a trucking company business.
Accordingly, truck drivers may feel pressured to make up time or cut other corners to make a timely delivery, which can include:
- Speeding is especially dangerous in a tanker truck because it increases the risk of rollover accidents.
- Fatigued driving, where a driver either violates the federal hours of service limitations or is on the road when they are tired and should be resting.
- Distracted driving, where the driver does not pull over to do something like check their phone or eat because they do not want to lose time.
- Driving in inclement weather increases the risk that the truck driver may lose control of their truck or be unable to stop in time to avoid rear-ending a car in front of them.
- Failing to take the truck out of service for maintenance. (Trucking companies must ensure that their vehicles are roadworthy, and the truck driver must visually inspect the vehicle at the start of a shift before heading out onto the road.)
The Physics of Tanker Trucks Also Present Their Dangers
Tanker trucks present their unique dangers in several respects. The most obvious hazard is the substance that is inside the tanker truck. These vehicles usually carry hazardous and flammable substances that can ignite or explode in the event of a crash. Tanker trucks have caused fiery crashes that have impacted other vehicles in the area. Drivers or other cars and their passengers have a much greater chance of suffering severe injury or death when the crash involves fire.
In addition, the liquid inside the tanker truck can spill onto the roadway. The extreme danger is when the substance is petroleum or another chemical that can ignite with a spark. Nonetheless, any liquid spilling onto the roadway is dangerous because it can cause other cars in the area to lose traction and spin out of control. The cars in the immediate vicinity are at risk until the roadway gets shut.
Finally, the distribution of the liquid in the tanker truck can increase the chances that the truck itself loses its center of gravity.
Especially when a tanker truck is not fully loaded, the liquid can move within the tank, making it more difficult for the driver to control the truck. Tanker trucks have a high risk of a rollover accident because of the volatility of the cargo inside. Fluid movement is perhaps the most significant risk that the tanker driver must contend with. Trucks contain multiple baffles (compartments) to minimize the risk of shifting liquid and causing a rollover.
The Size Disparity Between Tankers and Cars Can Cause Serious Injury
Tanker trucks also share the same set of dangers as other large trucks. The regular federal weight limit for large trucks on the road controls tankers. According to federal regulations, trucks may weigh up to 80,000 pounds when fully loaded.
Large tanker trucks have a capacity of up to 11,600 gallons of whatever substance it is carrying. For a frame of reference, there are eight pounds in one gallon. Even small tanker trucks can hold up to 3,000 gallons, which equates to 24,000 pounds (and that does not account for the weight of the truck itself).
The size disparity between the truck and a passenger car alone will increase the danger to motorists and their passengers. A crash with a larger truck will unleash a tremendous amount of force that will make injuries far worse. It is very rare to walk away completely unscathed in an accident with a tanker truck (or any truck, for that matter). In many cases, accident victims will suffer serious injuries.
You Must Prove Fault in a Tanker Truck Accident
Most tanker truck accidents result from human error or vehicle defects. Your task is to prove that the tanker truck driver or the trucking company did something wrong that caused your injuries. In many cases, the proof of what the truck driver did comes from their actions. For example, if the truck driver rear-ended you, that will be enough to prove that they were negligent. You will not need to specifically prove that they were fatigued.
However, proving that the truck driver did something wrong that involved a violation of laws or regulations can strengthen your legal position. If you can prove that the driver intentionally broke the law (or was pressured to do so by the trucking company), you can obtain punitive damages against the trucking company. If the trucking company and its insurance carrier know that it may face that possibility from an angry jury, they may be more reasonable in settlement negotiations. The ability to take your case to the jury will give you leverage.
You Can Sue the Trucking Company for a Tanker Accident
When a truck driver has caused an accident, you can hold the trucking company legally responsible for its actions. A truck driver, an employee of a trucking company, is an agent of that company. Anything the truck driver does is legally an act of their employer when it happens on the job. For truck accident victims, being able to sue the company gives them access to a deep pocket to pay for all their damages.
Trucking companies are required to have more extensive insurance policies when they are transporting certain hazardous materials. Many states have even higher minimum insurance requirements for trucks that transport HAZMAT. There may be minimum insurance requirements of $5,000,000 for tanker trucks.
With that in mind, you will begin the claims process knowing that a large amount of money is available to pay for your tanker accident injuries. However, just because a trucking company has a policy that large does not mean that the insurance company will willingly write an extensive check to pay for your injuries. Nonetheless, you have the leverage of your own when the facts and law are on your side.
Damages in a Trucking Accident Case
Before you even file a claim or lawsuit for your tanker accident injuries, you should know the value of your case.
In a truck accident case, you may recover:
- The complete cost of your medical care
- Lost wages for the time that you missed from work or any reduction in your ability to earn a living
- Pain and suffering for the experience that you continue to endure after your accident
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Permanent scarring or disfigurement
If your loved one died in an accident with a tanker truck, your family can file a wrongful death lawsuit against the trucking company. This case will seek damages for your family’s personal injury that you suffered when your loved one’s life was cut short.
You Must Take Legal Action to Get the Money You Deserve
You cannot expect the insurance company to easily write you a check for up to the policy limit without making you work for it. Here, working means gathering the necessary proof to prove your claim and negotiating for a settlement that fairly compensates you.
These are not things that you can do on your own, especially when you are dealing with serious truck accident injuries. An experienced attorney can handle your case, putting pressure on the trucking company while allowing you to take the time to recover from your injuries.
Given the amount of money at stake and the complexity of any truck accident claim, you should not attempt to handle the case on your own. The insurance company will not give you any benefit of the doubt. Instead, they will try to take advantage of you in any way they can. They may deny your claim entirely or try to settle your case for as little as possible, even if it is for far less than you deserve.
Calling a truck accident attorney is something you should do as soon as possible after you suffer an injury. You do not need any money to get started with your case because a lawyer will not charge you anything upfront, and they will not send you bills while your case moves forward. The only time that you need to pay a lawyer is when you win your case. The cost of not hiring an attorney far exceeds what you will pay an attorney.