How to get maximum compensation after an accident with a hazmat truck
An injury claim involving a hazmat truck will entail all of the same legal issues and challenges as any vehicle accident. But hazmat accidents require knowledge of another layer of questions. You will need an experienced personal injury lawyer with special skills to pursue your claim.
General personal injury law
Hazmat truck accidents are subject to the same tort law applicable to all personal injury cases. The required elements are:
- Venue. The case must be filed in the proper court.
- Liability. For a party to be liable for injuries in a vehicle accident, they must have negligently or intentionally committed an act or omitted an act or conduct that was the proximate cause of harm to the plaintiff.
- Damages. The plaintiff must prove the amount of consequential or punitive damages.
Compensatory damages are meant to compensate a victim for losses related to their injuries.
Punitive damages are only awarded in cases where an injury was caused by extreme recklessness or malice. They are designed to deter others from exhibiting similar behavior.
Thus, while a party might have done something wrong, their conduct must have been the proximate cause of the accident and the damages incurred by the plaintiff.
Normal personal injury cases require the expertise of an experienced trial lawyer. But hazmat accidents involve some special considerations demanding the legal help of a trial lawyer highly versed in those issues.
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Hazmat truck safety regulations and requirements
A hazmat truck is a semi-trailer or tanker that is qualified to be a public, commercial carrier of hazardous materials. The carrier, driver and equipment must comply with federal and state transportation and safety regulations.
A hazmat truck driver must have both a state-issued commercial driver’s license (CDL) but also a federally-issued hazardous material endorsement (HME). The HME is proof that the driver has:
- Been trained in proper procedures for transporting hazardous materials; and
- Passed security and background checks.
Hazmat trucks must be authorized to haul hazardous material and are subject to restrictions on their use. They are allowed to travel only during limited hours and may not use certain roads.
Hazmat trucks typically carry dangerous materials that can cause injuries if they are leaked or exposed in an accident on the road. For that reason, the consequences of an accident with a hazmat truck usually entail extraordinary risk of catastrophic personal injury to numerous parties in addition to those directly involved in the accident.
What hazardous materials can hazmat trucks transport?
The hazardous materials that hazmat trucks are certified to carry are regulated by the Federal Hazardous Materials Transportation law (49 U.S.C. § 5103 et seq.). That law directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to promulgate regulations to:
- Designate classifications of materials determined to pose an unreasonable risk to health and safety or property; and
- Issue rules for the safe transportation, including security, of those materials in intrastate, interstate and foreign commerce.
The classifications of regulated hazardous materials as outlined in federal regulation 49 CFR Parts 171 and 173 are:
- Class 1: Explosives
- Class 2: Hazardous gasses that are flammable, compressed or toxic
- Class 3: Flammable liquids
- Class 4: Flammable solids and spontaneously combustible materials
- Class 5: Oxidizers and organic peroxides
- Class 6: Toxic materials and infectious substances
- Class 7: Radioactive materials
- Class 8: Corrosive materials (e.g., acids)
- Class 9: Miscellaneous dangerous substances (e.g., lithium batteries)
What are the most common injuries after an accident with a hazmat truck?
An accident with any semi-trailer truck can cause very serious injuries. Semis typically weigh more than 30,000 pounds, while your car weighs no more than 3,000 or 4,000 pounds. It’s obvious who will be most likely to suffer severe injuries.
But the potentially life-threatening injuries suffered in an accident with a hazmat truck are much greater because an accident with a hazmat truck can release or ignite the hazardous materials contained in the truck—impacting not only drivers and passengers but also pedestrians anywhere near the accident site.
Common injuries can include:
- Chemical burns
- Carcinogens exposure
- Gastro-intestinal trauma
- Neurological damage
- Radiological exposure
- Biological exposure to viruses and bacteria
- Respiratory injury to lungs from airborne toxins
Many injuries (for example, exposure to toxins) are not immediately apparent but can manifest days, weeks or months in the future.
What to do if you’re in an accident with a truck carrying hazardous materials
Whether you’re directly involved in a hazmat truck accident or you’re merely a bystander, take the following steps immediately:
- Evacuate the scene.
- If you have access to protective gear, put them on or distribute them to others.
- Call 911.
- Document your experience or observations.
- If you’re directly involved, exchange contact and insurance information with the other directly involved parties.
- Unless you’re critically injured, do not leave the scene until the police can get your statement.
- Seek medical assistance as soon as possible.
- Report the accident to your insurance company.
- Do not talk to any representatives of the trucking company or their insurer without first contacting an attorney to protect your rights.
- If you’ve been exposed to hazardous chemicals, you may need to quarantine. The police will advise you on when you can leave.
Who may be liable for an accident with a hazmat truck?
Among the many factors distinguishing a hazmat truck accident is the multiplicity of parties that are connected to and may be liable for the accident. They include:
- The truck company
- The truck driver
- A 3rd-party driver
- The party that loaded the truck
- Equipment manufacturers
- Hazmat material manufacturers
How are the federal hazmat transportation regulations relevant? The plaintiff has the burden of proof regarding the questions of proximate cause and damages in any personal injury case. However, a truck company’s or driver’s failure to comply with federal regulations might be what’s called a “prima facie case” for negligence and liability.
A plaintiff’s prima facie case creates a rebuttable presumption that the defendant is liable, which shifts the burden to the defendant to rebut the presumption.
Do I need a lawyer after an accident with a hazmat truck in South Carolina?
If you are potentially a plaintiff for personal injuries in a hazmat truck accident, you will need a lawyer in whatever state it occurs because the legal issues are very complex.
Any claim for personal injury from a vehicle accident requires an experienced personal injury trial lawyer. But the extraordinary issues of hazmat regulations require the help of a trial lawyer with specialized skills, knowledge and experience.
Your lawyer will:
- Analyze the facts and evaluate your case.
- Determine the respective liability of the parties involved, including your own liability.
- Evaluate damages.
- Negotiate with insurance companies of the parties involved.
- Make a formal claim against the potentially liable parties.
- File a personal injury lawsuit against potentially liable parties.
- Negotiate settlement offers.
- Represent you at trial, if necessary.
It is very important that you contact a lawyer as soon as possible after an accident with a hazmat truck to ensure your rights are protected.
Contact the experienced attorneys at Chappell, Chappell and Newman
If you were in an accident with a hazmat truck or any other vehicle because of someone else’s negligence, you have a legal right to compensation. The experienced truck accident attorneys at Chappell, Chappell and Newman are here to help. We’ve dedicated our practice to helping injured clients across the state of South Carolina get the justice and compensation they deserve.
Contact us today for your free consultation so we can develop an individualized plan for you.