Even though many tanker trucks are smaller than many 18-wheeler semi-trucks, an accident involving a tanker truck can be far more dangerous than any ordinary truck accident. All truck accidents, because of the size and weight of the vehicle, put physics on the side of the trucker over a smaller vehicle. A tanker truck, unfortunately, adds chemistry to the mix. Nearly four tanker truck rollovers happen every day in the United States. These too-common accidents can be catastrophically dangerous.
What Is a Tanker Truck
Tanker trucks are familiar to virtually anyone who drives on American highways, transporting about one-fourth of all freight transported in the United States.
There are three basic types of tanker truck tanks:
- Smoothbore Tank - Smoothbore tanks have one long, smooth interior compartment. While the smoothbore has some advantages, the lack of baffles and bulkheads means there is completely unrestricted movement front to back and side-to-side of the liquid cargo. This movement can create the risk that rapid shifts or acceleration will force the liquid to the rear of the tanker, slowing it down. On the other hand, if the driver brakes too fast, the forward rushing liquid can push the tanker into an intersection. Any of these uncontrolled cargo movements can make the truck dangerously unstable.
- Tank with Bulkheads - A tanker with bulkheads is made with solid internal dividers to create several separate storage compartments. This structure reduces the back-and-forth movement of the tanker’s liquid cargo but still permits side-to-side movement. This latter movement creates a considerable risk that the tanker will tip over because of the shifting weight. The operator needs to know that workers equally loaded the compartments to prevent an unsafe load and reduce the imbalance.
- Tank with Baffles - Tankers with baffles have internal angled dividers with holes in them to create separate compartments with reduced but not eliminated front-to-back movement of the liquid cargo. The baffles help slow the front-to-back movement of the liquid cargo. Again, there is no limitation of side-to-side movement, meaning that the risk of tipping over remains high, especially on curvy roads.
In general, the physics of the movement of liquids inside tanker trucks makes them inherently somewhat unstable and at risk of rollovers and other unexpected, undesirable movements. The often dangerous cargoes they carry can make that risk even higher. Of course, not all tanker trucks carry hazardous materials. Many tanker trucks carry food products and other safe cargoes, but instability remains an issue.
Why Are Tanker Truck Accidents So Dangerous
Tanker truck accidents are not dangerous solely because of the instability created by the relatively free movement of the liquids carried inside them. Other factors include the nature of their cargoes, the potentially devastating damage caused by collisions, and the risk of rollovers.
Large tanker trucks can carry any liquid cargo. However, they often carry inherently dangerous cargoes. Large tankers are used, for instance, to transport gasoline, diesel, and other fuels to filling stations. They also transport liquid propane gas, radioactive materials, and other hazardous materials. In the event of a collision, one or more of these dangerous substances may escape and injure bystanders or individuals in other vehicles. They may cause injury through subsequent explosions or fires or may cause injury simply through contacts such as chemical burns or the breathing of toxic substances.
Fires & Explosions
Because of the hazardous chemicals they regularly carry, tanker truck accidents can have additional and more severe consequences beyond just the damage done to other vehicles and their passengers. For example, a tank loaded with gasoline can bring the risk of severe injuries to those nearby on the road or in other vehicles upon the occurrence of a collision. The truck may, upon impact, immediately explode, and the resulting gasoline fire will often kill the driver instantly. It may severely injure bystanders or those in other vehicles.
A tanker, of course, must be carrying flammable material, encounter an ignition source, and be accessible to oxygen for an explosion to occur. However, when these are present, a tanker can explode, spreading flaming materials and debris across a broad area and causing victims to experience catastrophic burns and other severe injuries from flying debris.
The movement of the liquids inside a tanker truck, even one with internal baffles or bulkheads, creates an intrinsically unbalanced load. The constantly shifting load, particularly in a truck that does not have a full load, creates an elevated risk of a rollover of the tanker. The problem is that a tanker truck rollover is frequently followed almost immediately by a huge explosion and fire, probably killing the driver immediately and seriously injuring others nearby.
Unfortunately, by the time even a skilled and experienced driver is aware that a rollover is in progress, the driver can do little to prevent it. In fact, attempts to correct a rollover can make the physical forces involved more compelling and speed up the accident. Truck drivers tend to believe that bad driving conditions cause most rollovers, but actually, the vast majority of such accidents occur on dry roads in daylight.
Leaks and Spills
Another hazard frequently found with tanker truck accidents is leaks and spills of the hazardous contents of the tanker. Even if a collision does not cause an explosion or massive fire, it may sufficiently damage the vehicle’s tank to cause it to begin to leak its contents. These leaks put the driver and everyone else in the area at risk from toxic fumes, potential fires, or other hazards from the leaking fluids, such as breathing toxic fumes or being exposed to radiation.
Causes of Tanker Truck Accidents
As with most motor vehicle collisions, tanker truck accidents usually happen due to the negligent conduct of the driver.
Some instances of this conduct include:
- DUIs - driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, whether legal or illegal.
- Driving while drowsy or tired - statistics show that fatigue is as potentially disastrous as driving under the influence, yet nearly 13 percent of truck drivers do it.
- Speeding, especially in the given conditions.
- Distracted Driving - All across the world of motor vehicle accidents, distracted driving continues to be one of the fastest-growing causes of accidents. Drivers deal with their phones, their texts, their food, their navigation devices, and just about anything else that can take their eyes off the road. Given the speeds of highway driving and the physics of tanker trucks, even a momentary distraction can have catastrophic consequences.
- Poor maintenance - fleet tucks are not always maintained as well as they might be. Any resulting mechanical failures can cause devastating accidents.
What Are Typical Injuries in a Tanker Truck Accident?
Because of the size of the vehicles and the danger of the substances carried by many of them, tanker truck accidents can result in horrific injuries.
Among the more common and serious injuries are:
- Severe burns and disfigurement - resulting from fires or explosions, often deep and covering substantial portions of the body.
- Head injuries and traumatic brain injuries - caused by the high forces in the collisions or subsequent explosions.
- Deep lacerations and scarring - flying debris and glass due to collision and explosions can lacerate the skin and eyes.
- Crushing injuries and fractures - bones may be so badly fractured or crushed as to require surgery or amputation or cause a life-long lack of motion.
- Neck and spinal cord injuries - neck and spinal injuries can cause partial or virtually complete paralysis.
- Smoke inhalation - from fires caused by the explosions or collision and potential made worse by the toxicity of the burning substances.
- Chemical burns - the hazardous chemicals onboard may be such that burns will occur even in the absence of fires.
- Radiation burns or sickness - tankers often transport radioactive materials, and leaks can cause both burns and radiation sickness.
- Bystander injuries - caused by inhaling toxic fumes or encountering released radiation.
What Are the Potential Consequences of Those Injuries
The long-term consequences of tanker truck accidents are no less devastating than the immediate injuries.
Severe burns can be among the most horrific injuries of all. A significant percentage of tanker truck drivers are killed immediately in the event of an accident, but those who aren’t may sustain severe and extensive burns. Particularly when the burns are deep and widespread, the pain is intense, and healing is difficult and slow. The recovery process includes the potential for skin grafts and permanent scarring and loss of function. Range of motion can be lost, as can dexterity, while the eventual scarring can lead to life-long emotional troubles.
Head injuries and traumatic brain injuries - The physics of tankers trucks mean that rollovers, explosions, and unintended forward movement of a truck can all result in horrific high-speed accidents. These accidents can cause head injuries and traumatic brain injuries that can leave long-lasting and life-altering damage with significant loss of motor and cognitive function.
Scarring - Burns and lacerations from flying debris can both leave widespread and devastating scars. As noted above, scar tissue not only reduces the performance of joints and digits, it can also lead to depression and lost enjoyment of life.
Crushing injuries - The crushed and fractured bones experienced in tanker truck accidents can permanently cripple survivors. Some such injuries may never completely heal, while others may require amputation or leave the victim permanently disabled.
Spinal cord injuries - Spinal cord injuries caused by the violence of the explosions in tanker truck accidents can leave the victim permanently paralyzed and unable to work again.
What Damages Can You Collect?
The short and long-term effects of tanker truck accidents create a wide variety of damages that an experienced and knowledgeable truck accident lawyer can assist you with recovering.
Wrongful Death - Some victims of tanker truck accidents die at the scene or soon after. For this reason, you may be facing a wrongful death cause of action. Generally, you must file such a case within two years of the date of death.
The damages you might recover include:
- Funeral expenses
- Health care expenses, if any, relating to the accident
- Financial support lost to the family by the death
- Value of parenting activities of the deceased
- Deceased’s pain and suffering before the death
Special Damages - Special damages are simpler to calculate than general damages. They generally represent actual out-of-pocket expenses that stem from receipts, paid invoices, or Forms W-2 and 1099.
They can include:
- Medical and hospital expenses
- Drug and medication expenses
- Lost wages
- Assistive services
- Assistive equipment
General Damages - General damages are the non-economic and more subjective damages that victims of negligence can endure. They do not come with a paper trail and can be difficult to prove. They can also result in exceptionally large rewards and insurance companies can fiercely dispute them.
New York State does not impose any cap on general damages. Victims might recover for:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of future earning capacity
- Future medical and rehabilitative costs
- Emotional and mood disorders resulting from injuries or scarring
- Loss of consortium
- Loss of enjoyment of life
Punitive Damages - Punitive or exemplary damages are rarely available in New York and generally require a finding that the defendant’s recklessness or willful indifference was severe enough to shock the court’s conscience. New York does not impose any limits or caps on punitive damages, and awards can, when granted, be large.
How Can a Bronx Truck Accident Attorney Help?
The costs and consequences of being a victim of a tanker truck accident are extremely high and often exceed the insurance limits available for the claim.
Whether you are a spouse trying to recover for the wrongful death of your lost loved one, or a victim of a tank truck driver’s bad accident, a Bronx truck accident attorney can help you to understand the damages to which you might be entitled and how to recover them. Contact one today for a free initial consultation and case evaluation.