About 25 percent of all freight on U.S. roads is transported by tanker trucks, which consist of a large cylindrical tank pulled behind a truck cab. Because of their size and the sometimes dangerous nature of their cargo, tanker trucks raise unique handling issues for their drivers and create their own set of (often devastating) problems when they’re involved in truck accidents with other vehicles.
Types of Tanker Cargo
Tanker trucks are used to transport different cargo than their long-haul counterparts. You might see tankers hauling a variety of liquids, including gasoline and other types of fuel, wastewater, toxic chemicals, milk, and non-potable water. Nearly all gas transported by tankers is hazardous and includes substances such as propane, nitrogen, hydrogen, and other natural gases. Companies also use tankers to transport dry cargo, such as agricultural waste, manufacturing waste or byproducts, fertilizers, or grain.
Tanker Truck Regulations
Because so many tankers carry dangerous cargo, regulations have been put into place to ensure that other drivers are aware that tankers are on the road and that their drivers are qualified to haul the cargo.
In Florida, drivers must first take and pass a written examination and certain skills tests to receive a commercial driver’s license (CDL). On top of that, tanker drivers must take an additional test, prove skills competency, and receive an endorsement (authorization) to operate tankers. Finally, if the driver wishes to transport hazardous materials in a tanker truck, he or she must take a written exam, exhibit proficiency at other skills, and then receive a hazardous materials endorsement.
In addition to attempting to ensure that drivers are uniquely qualified to drive tanker trucks, the tankers themselves must be marked with placards indicating that the material being transported is hazardous. This alerts other drivers that they should keep an especially safe distance and serves as a warning to first responders to any accident that, depending on the particular tanker involved, they may come into contact with hazardous materials and should use extreme caution.
Causes of Tanker Truck Accidents
Driver error can cause tanker truck accidents before or while operating a vehicle; the condition of a vehicle and size of its load can also lead to accidents under dangerous circumstances.
Drivers of tankers can succumb to the same types of driver errors as do drivers of other vehicles, but the results of poor driving decisions while hauling hazardous materials can be catastrophic and fatal. Intoxication and drowsiness have nearly identical symptoms in drivers; both lengthen reaction time, fog judgment, and diminish the ability to perceive danger. Truckers who make the decision to consume alcohol or who refuse to stop when fatigued put others on the road in serious danger.
Distracted driving—things like looking at or talking on the phone, reading a paper map, or simply not paying attention to the road—can cause drivers to miss important warnings about upcoming dangers or to miss obstacles in the road. Often when drivers are distracted and then return their attention to the road, they over-correct, which can cause their vehicles to roll over or veer off the road or into approaching traffic.
Operating a tanker full of hazardous material at an unsafe speed brings about dangers that don’t exist with smaller vehicles without such loads. Because of the size and weight of tankers, they already take longer to stop than passenger vehicles. When they’re driven at high speeds, the length of time necessary to come to a complete stop increases, and the driver is more likely to collide with another vehicle or obstacle in the road.
All big trucks, including tankers, are supposed to be inspected before a driver sets out on the road. A rushed or skipped inspection can cause a driver to miss important warning signs about the deteriorating safety of his or her vehicle. Among other things, drivers should inspect their trucks’ tires and brakes to ensure that everything is functioning safely.
Tire blowouts can occur if the tires are insufficiently inflated or their tread is too low. A blowout can cause a tanker to behave erratically, making it difficult for the driver to control. Blowouts also often result in the tires flying up into the air and landing in the road, creating obstacles for other drivers.
Faulty brakes can lead to horrific accidents. Before drivers set off, they should inspect the brakes on their vehicles. With use, brake pads lose their effectiveness as they wear down through contact with the disk. Vehicles show signs that their brakes are beginning to give out, such as vibrating when pressed, squealing, or requiring more than normal force to bring the vehicle to a complete stop. Bad brakes increase the time a driver needs to come to a complete stop and can lead to rear-end collisions if the driver cannot stop the truck in time to prevent an accident.
Unlike trucks that haul open cargo—such as cars, oddly shaped objects, lumber, and other things that require being physically tied to the trailer—a tanker’s cargo is fully contained inside of it, so there is little danger that it will end up on the roadway as a hazard without an accident occurring. The weight of the load can, however, change how the vehicle operates, since how full the tanker is determines the weight of the vehicle. Vehicle weight changes stopping time and the ability to make sharp turns.
A tanker that is less than three-fourths full is susceptible to slosh, which is when the liquid inside moves back and forth or from side to side. This causes the center of gravity to change and can make it difficult for a driver to control the truck. Slosh and the uneven nature of a less-than-full tanker make it easier for the truck to rollover. Truck drivers must know how heavy their loads are and adjust their driving habits accordingly.
Unique Dangers of Tanker Truck Accidents
Depending on a tanker’s cargo, unique dangers may be present if one is involved in an accident. Consider the following:
Explosions and Fire
When a tanker is in an accident, it is not uncommon for the tanker to leak or receive a puncture from the impact with the other vehicle. The nature of certain hazardous materials is such that contact with heat or other elements can cause certain cargo to explode. Even if the hazardous material does not explode, it may still catch on fire from impact, exponentially increasing the danger to all involved.
Those involved in a tanker crash that results in an explosion suffer fatal injuries more often than those involved in other types of accidents. Survivors are very likely to receive severe burns that require long-term care or skin grafts and can leave the skin scarred permanently.
Release of Toxic Fumes
Certain chemicals do not need to come into contact with human skin to cause severe reactions. Sometimes, simply breathing such chemicals is sufficient to cause health problems, and you may not even know that you are breathing a dangerous chemical because many fumes are odorless. Inhalation of toxic fumes can cause vomiting, coughing, and eye irritation (and if the chemical is dangerous enough, permanent sight loss). Inhalation can also cause the nose and throat to swell, making breathing difficult.
Chemical Leaks and Spills
Any kind of impact can cause a tanker leak. Depending on what the material is and how large the leak is, everyone in the vicinity of the accident may need to evacuate. Toxic fumes and noxious odors may impact nearby businesses and homes. Individuals in the area may need to evacuate while the spill is being cleaned up and until the area is deemed safe again.
If the victims in the crash are unable to leave the area right away—whether because their injuries are too severe or they’re trapped in their own vehicles—they may experience chemical burns. Although these injuries vary based on the severity of the burn, symptoms of chemical burns include disfigurement, infection, loss of limbs or digits, and muscle and tissue damage.
After Your Tanker Truck Accident
If you were in an accident with a tanker truck, you were probably badly injured. In addition to suffering physically, you may also be suffering from the immense pressure of sky-high medical bills, the loss of your job, and an inability to enjoy life as you previously did.
You have options. Florida law allows you to pursue legal action against people who injure you through negligence by filing a personal injury lawsuit against those people. You generally must file your suit within four years from the date of your accident. Always retain a competent attorney to represent you in all legal proceedings, so contact an experienced Florida tanker truck accident attorney as soon as you can.
Types of Damages
Once you decide to proceed with a lawsuit, your attorney will set about filing your case and working to build legal claims for the monetary damages that you are owed due to your injuries. Florida divides available personal injury damages into three broad categories: (1) economic, (2) non-economic, and (3) punitive. No two cases are exactly alike, and determining which types of damages are appropriate in a case is an extremely fact-specific analysis. Depending on the circumstances surrounding your accident, some or all of the damages listed below may be available to you:
- Economic damages – The purpose of economic damages is to compensate victims for direct monetary loss. This means that the victim must provide direct proof. Keep in mind that you may only recover damages from the other party to the extent that you did not recover them from anyone else, such as your vehicle or health insurance provider. Common types of economic damages include your initial medical costs (transportation to a hospital, your initial stay there, surgeries performed while you were admitted, specialists, tests and imaging, and laboratory work), therapy or rehabilitation services, follow-up appointments or surgeries, lost wages and those you will lose in the future, and the cost of paying someone to perform household chores or other services you can no longer perform.
- Non-economic damages – Think of these damages as losses you suffer but are not billed for; pain and suffering (both physical and mental), disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, physical impairment, and inconvenience are all types of non-economic damages. Their very nature makes them harder to prove, but experts can evaluate your situation and assign a number to the very real damages that you’ve suffered. Your spouse may also be able to file a claim for loss of consortium if your injuries have affected your marital relationship.
- Punitive damages – In Florida, punitive damages are rarely awarded, but may be possible for you depending on the facts of your case. They are intended to punish a defendant for especially egregious behavior (most often when there is intentional infliction of harm) and to serve as a deterrent for both this particular defendant in the future and others who may consider engaging in the same behavior.
Should You Need More Answers, Ask a Florida Tanker Truck Accident Lawyer
When you’ve suffered extreme physical, emotional, and financial hardship due to someone else’s negligence, you need someone who can take on the responsible party and fight for compensation.
No outcome is ever guaranteed, as each case is different and turns on its own set of facts. If you find a group of compassionate truck accident attorneys who will bring extensive experience and knowledge of the law to your case, fight hard on your behalf, and treat you like family, you may get the best possible results in your case.