Every day, tanker trucks haul a variety of cargo across the United States. Commonly tanker trucks transport large quantities of liquid or gas, including oil, water, gasoline, septic tank contents, and chemicals. Light-duty tanker trucks can carry as much as 3,000 gallons of liquid. On the other hand, heavy tanker trucks can carry even higher volumes. There is no doubt that these trucks provide a vital service for many businesses. However, they can also pose unique hazards on the roadways.
Five Unique Hazards Posed by Tanker Trucks
Tanker trucks are unique commercial cargo trucks that are specially constructed to transport liquids or gases. Tanker trucks vary in design. Some tanker trucks have a separate truck cab that is attached to a separate trailer or tank. This design allows the tank to haul a wide variety of liquids and gases. Some tanks have a compartmentalized design that allows them to carry multiple substances simultaneously. Other tanks are undivided and can only carry a single substance at a time.
The design of the tanker truck itself has the potential to cause dangers on the roadways.
- Underfilled tanks can increase the risk of rollover accidents. Tanker trucks traveling at less than full capacity may have heavy liquids moving around freely inside them. When the liquid has room to move, it can create an imbalance of weight. As a result, they may have a greater likelihood of rolling over if they slip off the road and begin to tip. Specialty airbags can help reduce the risk of rollover accidents by filling the empty space and keeping the liquid where it belongs. However, they may not entirely prevent a rollover if the truck begins to slip off the road.
- Tanker trucks may carry hazardous cargo. While some tanker trucks carry relatively harmless substances, others may carry hazardous chemicals that can cause chemical burns on contact. Chemical burns can cause serious injuries. Like thermal burns, chemical burns often cause substantial pain and suffering for their victims. In addition, chemical burns may create a high risk of infection. Chemical burns frequently leave behind severe disfiguring scars. Obviously, chemical burns pose a substantial risk for victims directly involved in the accident. However, dangerous chemicals can also pose substantial risks for first responders as they attempt to provide aid to accident victims.
- Tanker trucks may have a high risk of fire. Many tanker trucks carry highly flammable liquids and gases, including gasoline and oil. When a tank gets punctured in an accident, it can significantly increase the risk of fire at the accident scene. A single spark can ignite hazardous cargo, increasing the risk of burn injuries as well as the likelihood of an explosion.
- Tanker trucks, like other large trucks, exert a substantial amount of force in an accident.Tanker trucks, like other large commercial trucks, weigh substantially more than the passenger vehicles they share the roadways with. The sheer size and weight of a tanker truck will often cause substantial damage to both the vehicles involved in the accident and the occupants. Tanker truck collisions can cause severe injuries, including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord damage, and amputation. Victims of even minor accidents may suffer serious broken bones.
- When tanker trucks consist of both truck and trailer, rather than a single unit, they have a risk of jackknife accidents. In a jackknife accident, the tank swings sideways, independently of the truck cab pulling it. In many cases, once the trailer begins to shift, the truck driver cannot regain control of the vehicle. Since the tank often weighs more than the truck cab, it can pull the cab along with it, leading to accidents with severe injuries.
Who Bears Liability for a Tanker Truck Accident?
Many victims assume, following a serious tanker truck accident, that the tanker truck driver bears full liability for the accident. Oftentimes, the truck driver does bear primary responsibility for what happens when they are behind the wheel.
Truck drivers have a duty to safely navigate the road, adhere to all traffic laws, and avoid driving if any danger is suspected. However, in some circumstances, factors contributing to an accident may be out of the driver’s control.
In those cases, other entities may share liability for damages resulting from tanker truck accidents.
The Trucking Company
The company that employs the driver has responsibilities both to the truck driver and other drivers on the road. If the trucking company violates those responsibilities, it may bear liability for accidents that occur as a result of that violation.
- The trucking company must ensure that its trucks receive appropriate maintenance. Aiming to increase profits, so trucking companies will delay routine maintenance of the trucks in their fleet. For example, companies may try to cut costs by delaying tire replacement or other known vehicle issues. If that lack of maintenance causes a serious accident, the trucking company will likely share liability for the resulting damages. A tire blow out caused by a lack of maintenance may cause a tanker truck accident. In that case, the trucking company may also be responsible for any property damage or injuries caused in the accident.
- The trucking company requires its drivers to exceed legally-mandated time on the road.Truck drivers can only spend eleven hours driving without a break. A shift can consist of no more than fourteen consecutive hours. Some trucking companies, however, may attempt to force their drivers to exceed those mandates. Exhausted drivers can more easily become distracted and drowsy behind the wheel. Both of which can significantly increase the risk of a catastrophic accident. When companies pressure their drivers to exceed the limits prescribed by law, and, as a result, an accident occurs, they may also be liable for the resulting damages.
- The trucking company forces its drivers to drive in unsafe conditions. Tanker trucks often carry cargo that requires a short delivery window. Sometimes, however, inclement weather prevents drivers from safely delivering that cargo within the allotted time frame. For example, mechanical issues, driver illness or inebriation, or unsafe weather or road conditions may make it dangerous for even the most experienced drivers to meet delivery deadlines. If the driver notifies the company of those challenges, and, nonetheless, the company requires the driver to continue driving, they may share liability for an accident.
Both truck manufacturers and manufacturers of any truck parts, including tires, signal lights, and windshield wipers, have a duty to provide safe products. They must ensure that the quality of their products will not pose a risk to truck drivers or other drivers they share the road with. Sometimes, however, mechanical failures may contribute to a tanker truck accident that has severe consequences. If the manufacturer produces a part with a known defect, the manufacturer may share liability for any accident caused by those defective parts.
Most commercial trucking companies conduct regular maintenance on their vehicles, including tanker truck companies. Some fleets have in-house mechanics responsible for vehicle repairs and routine maintenance, while others may outsource those tasks.
If a mechanical failure causes an accident after a tanker truck has received maintenance, the mechanic may share liability if:
- The mechanic certified a truck as road-worthy, but did not complete the repair.Dishonest mechanics may, for example, claim they performed maintenance on the vehicle that, in reality, they never performed. Other mechanics may fail to properly complete the repairs, leaving dangerous hazards behind. When this lack of repair causes an accident, the mechanic may share liability.
- The mechanic failed to note a problem with the vehicle that he should have noticed.A mechanic may conduct a routine examination or repair on the vehicle and fail to notice an apparent problem. If an issue that should have been apparent to the mechanic causes an accident, the mechanic may share liability if the issue causes an accident. The mechanic may also share liability if he damaged the vehicle in some way while conducting repairs. If the mechanic failed to repair the damage or notify the owner of the vehicle, they may also share liability for any resulting accidents.
An experienced truck accident attorney regularly fights for the rights of injured victims to seek the compensation they are entitled to. You should consider consulting with an attorney to get a better idea of who may be responsible for damages resulting from a tanker truck accident.
Six Steps to Take After a Tanker Truck Accident?
At the scene of a tanker truck accident, you should exercise extreme caution. If the truck carries hazardous cargo, you may need to distance yourself from the scene of the accident as quickly as possible.
1. Listen to the Truck Driver.
The truck driver knows what he or she is hauling and the dangers associated with the substance. If there is any indication from the driver that the scene is unsafe, you should safely remove yourself from the scene. The driver himself may be injured and unable to communicate. In that case, look for any indication of the contents of the tank on the truck itself. If the truck indicates that the contents are hazardous, react accordingly.
2. Prioritize Seeking Medical Care.
When you sustain serious injuries, you should immediately proceed to the emergency room or an urgent care center. Always prioritize your health and medical care following an accident. Even if you believe you suffered no injuries in the accident, you may have been exposed to hazardous chemicals. You should always seek an evaluation from a medical professional as soon as possible. Merely inhaling some dangerous chemicals can pose a serious risk to your health. Carefully follow any instructions given by your doctor, including monitoring for signs of chemical exposure.
3. Take Photos of the Accident Scene, if You Can.
Take pictures of the truck and any signs indicating the contents of its tank, especially if it carries hazardous cargo. You may also want to photograph damage to the vehicles as well as the placement of the vehicles at the scene. If you take photos of the driver’s insurance information and driver’s license, you will have ready access to that information later. It is always important to exchange insurance information because it will make it easier for you to file a claim later. You may also want to collect contact information from any witnesses at the scene of the accident.
4. Contact Your Insurance Company.
Most insurance providers require their customers to notify them of any accident. Your insurance company may help you handle repairs to your vehicle as well as provide you with valuable advice about how you should proceed. You may also need to remove a totaled vehicle from your insurance policy or register a new vehicle after your accident.
5. Get in Touch With an Attorney as Soon as Possible.
Following a tanker truck accident, you may want to contact an experienced personal injury attorney. An experienced attorney can offer advantages as you seek compensation after your tanker truck accident. An attorney may help evaluate who caused or contributed to an accident. They may also realistically anticipate the amount of compensation injured victims can expect to receive. Attorneys have experience collecting evidence that may be critical to a personal injury claim. For example, driver logs, information about the cargo, and traffic camera evidence may help establish liability in the accident.
6. Prepare to Negotiate.
Following your tanker truck accident, the truck driver’s insurance company may get in touch with you and provide a settlement offer. Often, this settlement may fail to reflect the full extent of recovery that you deserve. Compensation for your injuries may include compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Discuss the insurance company’s offer with an attorney before signing any agreements.
Many attorneys offer a free consultation that will help give you a better idea of what you should expect throughout the claims process. Oftentimes, the claims process involves several rounds of negotiation before an injured victim receives compensation. Some claims may require mediation or even go to court to reach a settlement. Prepare ahead of time to negotiate.
Tanker trucks can cause severe injuries that can leave victims with lifelong complications. By consulting a truck accident attorney, injured victims can get a better idea of exactly what compensation they deserve.
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