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The Dangers of Hazmat Trucking Accidents

In August of 2012, near Cleveland, Texas, an 18-wheeler veered off the road, broke a water main, and took out power lines before eventually slamming into a large tree. This scenario alone is an extremely harrowing accident, and it left the driver in critical condition. However, the accident escalated quickly because the big rig was hauling a chemical compound used for making industrial soap. This hazardous material contaminated not only the severely injured truck driver, but also EMS and fire crews who responded to the emergency, making a bad situation worse.

WHAT IS HAZMAT TRUCKING?

The term “HAZMAT” refers to “hazardous materials” that pose dangers to the environment and/or life if released. HAZMAT is a general term which can cover a wide range of dangerous substances. A substance in any physical state—solid, liquid, or gas—may be termed HAZMAT. Generally, these substances will have one or more of the following hazardous properties:

  • The substance is flammable
  • The substance is explosive
  • The substance is radioactive
  • The substance is corrosive
  • The substance is toxic

It is common for compressed gases, chemical gases and liquids, and petroleum products to exhibit one or more of these characteristics. Other additional properties in some substances may be dangerous enough to classify as HAZMAT. In simple terms, a substance may be dubbed “HAZMAT” when it poses a significant danger to people and the surrounding environment if handled improperly. HAZMAT trucking involves the commercial shipping of HAZMAT substances by big rig trucks. Because HAZMAT trucking is more dangerous than regular commercial trucking, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) imposes an additional layer of safety regulations on trucking companies in the HAZMAT trucking industry. Unfortunately, these additional regulations are not always enough to prevent all danger.

HAZMAT TRUCKING DANGERS

Accidents involving 18-wheelers carrying HAZMAT substances are inherently more dangerous than comparable accidents involving non-HAZMAT substances. That is because with HAZMAT accidents, in addition to the typical threats that exist, there is also a risk of:

Fire – If the HAZMAT substance is flammable there is a good chance that an accident could cause it to ignite, resulting in greatly elevated danger to the people involved in the accident, emergency responders, bystanders, and the surrounding environment.

Explosions – If the HAZMAT substance is highly volatile it may explode, which could easily result in the death or grave injury of anyone nearby. If the explosion is somewhat delayed after the accident this could further endanger the lives of anyone in the area who may be attempting to offer aid.

Chemical Burns – Not all burns are from actual flames. If the HAZMAT material is corrosive and leaks from its container as a result of the accident it could hurt, maim, or even kill someone who comes into contact with it. Chemical burns can easily affect the truck driver, accident victims, or emergency personnel.

Radiation – If the HAZMAT substance is radioactive, then simply being in near proximity to it, even without physically touching it, could result in serious adverse health effects. If the substance seeps into groundwater it could even injure populations of people who are in no other way involved in or even aware of the accident.

Poisoning – Just as radioactive HAZMAT substances could seep into the surrounding environment and harm otherwise uninvolved people, so too could a toxic or poisonous substance. The substance could also poison the accident victims if it enters their bodies, such as through open wounds that result from the accident.

HAZMAT TRUCKING REGULATIONS

As mentioned above, the FMSCA places additional regulations on trucking companies who handle HAZMAT substances. There are a host of additional regulations and requirements, but several of the major ones include:

– A truck driver may not park a vehicle bearing HAZMAT substances within 5 feet of a traveled portion of a public street or highway.

– A truck driver must never leave his or her HAZMAT bearing vehicle unattended.

– A truck driver may not park a HAZMAT bearing vehicle on private property without first informing the property owner of the hazardous nature of the cargo, informing the property owner of intent to park, and obtaining permission.

Despite the best efforts of these laws and regulations, sometimes they are not enough to prevent serious, deadly accidents from occurring. When this is the result of negligence or willful endangerment by the truck driver and/or trucking company, then it is usually time to begin legal proceedings. The law firm of Clay Dugas and Associates is highly experienced in trucking litigation and we can help you get the justice and compensation that you deserve as a result of a HAZMAT trucking accident.

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