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Hazardous Material Accidents

Everyday, the trucking industry transports hazardous cargo to different areas of the country. Trucking accidents can be devastating. However, a trucking accident involving a truck hauling hazardous materials can come with even more severe consequences for the victims.

Additionally, the site where the collision took place may have extensive damage as well. Those who approach a recent collision site put themselves at risk and should only do so in the case of an emergency and with extreme caution.

The United States Department of Transportation reports 800,000 shipments of hazardous materials (3 billion pounds) being transported on trucks each day and 5000 fatal trucking accidents with 200 of those fatal trucking accidents involving trucks transporting hazardous materials. Sometimes, highways and interstates are temporarily closed when there are collisions involving trucks carrying hazardous materials so that professionals can determine the safety of the area and clean up the waste, so as to not expose the public to hazardous chemicals.

Just this summer, in Lake Charles, Interstate I-10 was closed due to an accident involving hazardous chemicals. The following article defines hazardous materials and explains the severity of collisions involving trucks carrying hazardous materials.

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What are hazardous materials?

As defined in Louisiana Revised Statute Section 1502, hazardous materials are “any gaseous, liquid, or solid material which because of its quantity, concentration, or physical, chemical, or biological composition poses a substantial present or potential hazard to human health, the environment, or property when transported in commerce.” Examples of hazardous materials are gasoline, hydrogen gas, flammable oils, petroleum, compressed oxygen cylinders, and other radioactive materials.

What types of hazardous materials are transported by trucks?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety has established nine classes of hazardous materials and has assigned them with cards which mark trucks and put other drivers on notice of the hazardous materials being carried by the truck: 

  • Class 1: Explosives- Explosives include any chemical combination which has the potential for a large explosion. Explosives can include blasting agents and detonating devices.
  • Class 2: Gases- Hazardous gases may not may not be flammable compressed gases or gases which can be toxic if inhaled.
  • Class 3: Flammable Liquid- Flammable liquids can include any liquids which could ignite in any conditions including in warm, dry, or moist air. Gasoline and diesel fuel are flammable liquids.
  • Class 4: Flammable Solids and Spontaneously Combustible Materials- Flammable solids are solid materials which could ignite and cause fires through friction under normal transportation conditions. Flammable solids include sludges and pastes. Similar to flammable solids, spontaneously combustible materials can lead to a fire under normal traveling conditions as well. Examples include aluminum alkyls and white phosphorus.
  • Class 5: Oxidizers and Organic Peroxides- Oxidizers include materials that generate oxygen and poisonous gases. An organic peroxide is any organic compound derivable from hydrogen peroxide. These types of materials accelerate the burning of other materials.
  • Class 6: Toxic Materials and Infectious Substances- Toxic materials and infectious substances include toxic substances, poisons, and irritating materials. Examples of toxic materials include certain poisons and other toxins. Infectious substances are any pathogens with the potential to cause disability or death through exposure to a human or animal.
  • Class 7: Radioactive Materials- Radioactive materials are those that spontaneously give radiation. A spill involving these types of materials can affect entire areas for years.
  • Class 8: Corrosive Materials- Corrosive materials cause visibly clear destruction or irreversible damage to metals or human tissues upon exposure/contact. Examples include acids or bases which must be transported with extra care.
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous

What rules must trucks carrying hazardous materials follow?

There are federal regulations which govern transportation of hazardous materials. Most truck drivers carrying hazardous cargo must undergo special types of training. Generally, trucks that are traveling with hazardous cargo must: 

  • Always handle cargo with the utmost caution and take their time while loading and unloading materials.
  • Monitor certain substances and chemicals throughout the entirety of their trip.
  • Place hazards placards on all sides of the truck as to place other vehicles on notice of its hazardous cargo. (Important to note is that not all trucks carrying hazardous materials must have placards.)
  • Always have shipping papers which describe the materials they are transporting. The CDL manual suggests that these papers be kept in a pouch on the driver’s door, in clear view within reach while driving, or on the driver’s seat when outside of the vehicle.
  • Avoid traveling on roads where the dangerous materials will be a risk to the public.
  • Keep their distance from other vehicles while in motion.
  • Stay alert and fit to drive.

What makes trucks carrying hazardous materials more dangerous?

Accidents involving hazardous materials can result from a number of factors like a truck rolling over, reckless driving, or overloaded or improperly loaded trucks. The following lists just a few ways that collisions involving trucks carrying hazardous materials can be more dangerous than the typical two-vehicle collision.

  • The potential injuries are more severe. Not only are there likely severe injuries from the impact of a collision, an individual may also suffer severe injuries due to their exposure to certain hazardous substances. There are some toxins that do not show immediate symptoms upon exposure, and it is important you seek medical attention immediately following these types of collisions. Exposure can result in serious organ damage, burns, or blindness. Fatalities are even possible, especially if cargo ignites and an explosion occurs.
  • The risk of the release of hazardous materials is high. The Analysis Division of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported that 4% percent of large trucks involved in fatal accidents were carrying hazardous materials. Additionally, in 15% of accidents involving placarded trucks carrying hazardous materials, the hazardous materials were released during the incident.
  • Maintaining control is more difficult for truck drivers. As a truck driver carrying hazardous materials, and unlike a truck carrying solid cargo, liquids can move about as trucks travel cross country. These liquids can throw off the balance of the truck and make it harder for the truck driver to maintain control. When a truck driver loses control, it can lead to the truck rolling over or a collision with another vehicle.
  • Hazardous materials can make roads slippery. Many truck drivers transport liquids that, if spilled, can create serious safety hazards on the road. If a truck rolls over, spilling its contents, the original collision can turn into a multi-car pileup as the following cars are unable to brake and slide forward on the spilled liquids from the truck.

What types of injuries occur from trucking collisions and spills?

The following list is not exhaustive of the potential injuries which can result from a trucking accident involving a truck carrying hazardous materials:

  • Thermal burns
  • Chemical Burns
  • Blindness
  • Loss of Hearing
  • Amputations
  • Exposure to carcinogens
  • Poisoning
  • Property Loss
  • Long-Term Illnesses

Consulting with an Attorney

Oftentimes, trucking companies try to settle quickly with victims of a trucking collision. If you have been injured in a trucking accident, whether carrying hazardous cargo or not, you should seek the opinion of an experienced trucking personal injury attorney. Our attorneys have extensive experience in valuing your injuries, maximizing your claims, and recovering the compensation you are entitled to from big trucking companies with seemingly endless resources. Call our office today for a free consultation.

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