Large trucks present special dangers on the road. They’re harder to maneuver, take longer to stop, and have larger blind spots than passenger vehicles. And because they are so much larger and heavier than cars and SUVs, they’re more likely to do serious damage in a collision.
But not all commercial vehicles are equal when it comes to risk on the road. Tanker trucks can be especially dangerous, both in terms of the likelihood of a traffic accident and the possible consequences of a crash.
Tanker Truck Crash Risks
Cargo tank trucks are at a greater risk of rollover than other large trucks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) says there are about 1,300 rollover accidents involving tanker trucks each year. That’s compared with about 500 for all other large truck types combined.
The key reason tanker trucks are so much more likely to overturn is their contents. Shifting contents can create hazards for any cargo vehicle, but the danger is enhanced with liquid contents that shift easily and can’t be tethered in place the same way hard goods can. According to FMCSA, more than 60% of tanker truck rollovers involve tankers that are partially filled, likely due to the “slosh and surge” effect.
Some tankers employ sectioning or separators with holes to minimize the sloshing effect. But sectioning requires careful balancing of contents and these solutions aren’t compatible with all liquid cargo. The shifting weight of liquid cargo presents a particular risk on curves and turns, and often means that it’s not safe for a cargo tank truck to take ramps and curves at the posted speed limit.
Why Tanker Truck Accidents are More Dangerous
The greater likelihood of rollover accidents is just one of the reasons cargo tank trucks can be more dangerous than other types of commercial vehicles. Tanker truck accidents also have the potential to be much more dangerous, damage property, and put people at risk beyond the normal reach of a traffic accident. That’s because tanker trucks often carry hazardous materials in liquid or gas format.
When a tanker truck rolls over or is involved in a collision, the tank may be damaged, causing contents to leak onto the roadway or into the atmosphere. Some tanker truck contents are explosive and the pressurization of a tank itself can lead to an explosion.
Earlier last year, a tanker truck rollover on I-90, about 20 miles west of Cleveland, required road closure, a HazMat team, and evacuation of nearby homes after the truck leaked alcohol it was carrying. The truck rolled when the driver swerved to avoid hitting a car that made an illegal U-turn in front of it.
Late last summer, a tanker truck accident started a stream of the Cuyahoga River on fire after the truck’s fuel mixed with chemical contents from its tank. A related sewer fire closed Gorge Metro Park and triggered a temporary ban on fishing. About 250 homes and businesses within a ½ mile radius of the crash site were evacuated.
Tanker Truck Accident Injuries and Damages
Because the potential reach of a tanker truck accident is much broader than the typical car accident, the number of possible victims may also be significantly larger. Where fires, toxic chemical spills, and gaseous toxins are involved, people who are not involved in the crash may still be impacted. In extreme cases, local residents or workers who aren’t even on the road may suffer effects from chemical exposure.
Liability for Tanker Truck Accidents
Like any other motor vehicle accident, a tanker truck accident may have multiple contributing causes. FMCSA concluded that driver error played a role in 78% of cargo tanker rollovers. About 20% involved driver inattention or drowsiness. But the same report revealed that more than half of the tanker trucks involved in those accidents had some sort of brake defect.
The same sorts of external factors that impact passenger vehicle accidents may play a role, such as debris in the road, weather conditions, and icy pavement. And sometimes, another driver is wholly or partly responsible, as in the case described above where the rollover occurred when the truck driver attempted to avoid a collision with a woman making an illegal U-turn.
Identifying Responsible Parties in Tanker Accidents Can Be Complicated
Identifying the responsible party in a tanker truck accident case and assembling evidence can be complicated for many reasons. First–as in cases involving other large commercial vehicles–tanker truck accident cases often involve a web of laws that may not apply in car accident cases. While the typical motor vehicle accident case is governed by Ohio law, commercial operators of large trucks are often subject to federal regulations as well. In fact, cargo tanker trucks are subject to federal regulations regardless of size, due to the unique risks associated with the vehicles and the type of materials they handle.
Assessment of liability can also be complicated by the many different parties who may be involved. For example, the driver of a tanker trunk may own and operate the truck as a contractor for the shipper or for a shipping company. Or the manufacturer, a wholesaler, or shipping company may own the truck and employ the driver.
Who is potentially liable for driver error or faulty vehicle maintenance depends in part on the nature of that relationship. Generally, an employer is liable for the actions of an employee, but a customer is not liable for the actions of a contractor. But under certain circumstances, a company may be liable for the actions of a contractor–for example, if company policy or demands on the contractor contributed to the incident.
Given the complexity of tanker truck and other large truck accident cases, it’s in your best interest to work with an attorney that has in-depth knowledge of trucking accidents and extensive experience in complex injury litigation. The lawyers at Plevin & Gallucci have devoted decades to assisting people who have been injured through someone else’s negligence or hurt on the job. They have the knowledge, experience, and network of experts necessary to successfully navigate a complex case like a cargo tank accident claim.