We hear about fatal truck accidents every day—trucks that were following too closely to the cars in front of them, accidents that resulted from driver fatigue, etc.—but what we rarely hear about are the semi-truck accidents that result in tons of hazardous wastes being spilled onto the ground and into nearby communities.
Trucks do frequently transport hazardous materials, and if the driver falls asleep at the wheel, or the cargo isn’t properly secured and it shifts, the truck can end up overturning or running off the road, causing hazardous waste spills that can affect the communities where they occur, sometimes causing harm to the people, their properties, and the environment for years, even after the waste is cleaned up.
Federal Hazardous Materials Laws & Regulations
For a free legal consultation, call (770) 792-1000
Hazardous materials are defined as materials that may pose an unreasonable risk to health and safety or property during transportation. This typically includes materials that are explosive, infectious, radioactive, toxic, flammable, corrosive, or oxidizing, such as hazardous wastes, marine pollutants, elevated temperature material, and other dangerous materials. The most common hazardous wastes transported include chemical products, petroleum products, waste, and medical waste.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulates the industry when it comes to securing cargo and ensuring that hazardous wastes are to be transported safely under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. There are four key standards:
- Policies and Procedures
- Material Labeling and Designations
- Packaging Requirements
- Operational Rules
Any driver transporting materials deemed hazardous must possess a specific designation within their commercial driver’s license—such as a hazardous materials endorsement—so that they possess the general knowledge and skills necessary to safely operate a commercial motor vehicle carrying hazardous materials cargo. The FMCSA’s other requirements pertain to how cargo is identified, secured through the proper use of tiedowns, dunnage or dunnage bags, shoring bars, or a combination thereof, as well as working load limits, commodity-specific securement requirements, and other important concerns when it comes to transporting cargo safely.
The law also states that regulations apply to anyone who:
- Transports hazardous materials in commerce;
- Causes hazardous materials to be transported in commerce;
- Designs, manufactures, inspections, fabricates, maintains, reconditions, tests, repairs a package, container, or comment that is represented, certified, marked, or sold as qualified for use in transporting hazardous material in commerce;
- Prepares or accepts hazardous material for transportation in commerce;
- Is responsible for the safety concerning the transportation of the hazardous material in commerce;
- Certifies compliance with the Act; or
- Misrepresents themselves as engaged in any of the above-mentioned activities.
Causes of Spill Accidents
Complete a Free Case Evaluation form now
According to the agency, most rollovers are caused by driver error, vehicle condition, and load size. Close to 80 percent of all rollovers involve driver error, and 90 percent of the time, it’s caused by a preceding event, such as drowsiness or inattention. In one study, 54 percent of vehicles in rollovers also had a brake defect of some kind; an oversight that could have easily been prevented by a thorough inspection. Some 63 percent of rollover crashes also occurred when cargo tanks were only carrying partial loads, leading to the “slosh and surge effect” of liquid loads. In brief, when truck companies fail to follow federal and state requirements concerning basic requirements, this constitutes negligence, and they can be held liable for any accidents and subsequent damage.
The effects of a cargo spill or leak on nearby communities can have lasting environmental and health impacts as a result of these substances being ingested, absorbed, or inhaled, leading to such issues as burns, disfigurement, brain damage, chronic respiratory issues, kidney damage, cancer, and other illnesses. In some circumstances, they can reach drinking water systems, and it can take years—even decades—for these health problems to manifest. They can also contaminate the land and decrease property values. The effect of certain contaminants such as toxic gasses can even prove fatal.
When it comes to the transportation of materials such as liquefied natural gas or oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing, a crash could lead to a particularly catastrophic explosion. This could result in what’s known as a pool fire, which burns hotter, longer, and more rapidly than oil or gasoline fires, and typically cannot be extinguished. In addition, particularly cold conditions can make it especially hazardous, as a crash could result in a frostbite/freeze situation, where odorless, colorless vapor could go undetected.
Our highly experienced truck accident attorneys have been conducting investigations related to these types of accidents for close to 30 years, serving local communities in Georgia and fighting for justice on behalf of our clients. This is especially important for a catastrophic accident such as a rollover that led to a hazardous waste spill. Some of the important aspects of any investigation undertaken after a hazardous spill include:
- Figuring out what caused the spill—was it negligence regarding how the cargo was secured, did the driver violate any federal hours of service standards, etc.
- What are the effects of the spill—was anyone hurt, is a cleanup necessary, did any one have to evacuate their home, etc.
- Could the accident have been prevented—if, for example, the driver had driven more slowly around a curb, or had properly secured the cargo, etc.
- Is the driver responsible? The company? The company whose products were transported, etc.
Committed Truck Accident Attorneys in Kennesaw, Georgia
If you or a loved one has been injured due to a truck accident carrying hazardous cargo, we can help. At the the Law Offices of Roger Ghai, P.C., our attorneys work to ensure that any injury victims or families who have lost a loved one due to an accident obtain compensation to cover medical expenses, pain and suffering, lost wages, property damage, and coverage for other losses. Contact us today for a free consultation. Our telephone number is (770) 792-1000.