With one of the biggest and busiest ports in the nation at Port Brownsville, Cameron County experiences heavy traffic, with a high number of commercial trucks passing through. Commercial trucks transport over 1.2 billion tons of cargo into and out of Texas every day.
Fuel constitutes one of the most important types of cargo to move into and out of the area, as Texas ranks as the country’s top oil and natural gas-producing state. Unfortunately, heavy commercial truck traffic can cause serious accidents, and the tanker trucks carrying fuel pose further risks of injuries or deaths from fires and explosions.
If you sustained an injury or lost a loved one in an accident involving a tanker truck, you can seek compensation for the expenses and impacts of your injuries.
An experienced truck accident attorney can help you seek the maximum amount of compensation available. Reach out to an attorney today to discuss the details of your accident and determine your eligibility to seek compensation.
Hazards That Lead To Tanker Truck Accidents
Cameron County experiences more than 200 accidents involving commercial trucks each year. Generally, the occupants of other vehicles, rather than tanker truck drivers, suffer injuries or die in this type of truck accident.
Commercial motor vehicles are large and heavy, and many of the hazards that come with this vehicle type stem from its large size. Heavy-duty tanker trucks generally carry trailers that have a hauling capacity of 5,500 to 9,000 gallons, with a gross weight of over 26,000 pounds—many times larger than the average passenger car. Below, we discuss some of the issues associated with tanker trucks that create danger for the occupants of other vehicles on the roadway.
Significant Blind Spots
A blind spot is an area surrounding the vehicle that the driver cannot see by looking in the side-view mirrors; commercial trucks usually do not have rearview mirrors, as the trailer impedes the view out the back window of the cab. All vehicles have blind spots, and often they generally extend along the rear sides of the vehicle. However, tanker trucks have significant blind spots on all four sides, particularly along the full length of the passenger side of the truck for more than the width of a full travel lane.
Significant blind spots make the truck driver more likely to cause an accident when backing up, changing lanes, or merging. Truckers have a responsibility to check their blind spots before making any lane changes, but other drivers who share the road with truckers should also attempt to avoid driving in trucks’ blind spots whenever possible.
Because of the length of a tanker truck and the propensity of vehicles with a high center of gravity to overturn when the driver turns the wheel too sharply, tanker trucks must make wide turns. Wide turns in a truck often involve swinging the front part of the vehicle into an adjacent travel lane to have enough space to safely turn. Unfortunately, accidents can happen when the truck swings into a lane occupied by another motor vehicle, or the wide turn of the truck pushes a smaller vehicle driving alongside it into the curb.
Increased Stopping Distance
No vehicle can stop instantly. Instead, stopping a vehicle involves a process in which the driver first perceives a hazard up ahead and responds by depressing the brakes. The brakes then go to work to pull the weight of the vehicle to a safe stop. Because they weigh so much more than passenger cars, tanker trucks can require up to 40 percent more distance to come to a complete stop than other types of vehicles. This distance increases in situations that involve slippery or wet roads, as well as for vehicles traveling at a higher speed when the driver applied the brakes.
High Center Of Gravity
Commercial trucks, including tanker trucks, are tall, relatively narrow vehicles with a high center of gravity. This results in an increased risk of the vehicle overturning if the driver attempts to take a curve or corner too fast or too sharply, or if the weight of the cargo has shifted off-balance. When a commercial truck overturns, it often results in the roadway being completely blocked for a time. The occupants of other vehicles face a risk of colliding with the overturned truck, crashing into it after it has overturned, or becoming harmed by the release of hazardous chemicals from the truck’s tank.
High Ground Clearance
In addition to a high center of gravity, commercial motor vehicles, such as tanker trucks, also have high ground clearance. The hazard associated with high ground clearance is that the space between the road and the bottom of the vehicle has enough space for a smaller vehicle to slip underneath the truck during an accident. This often-deadly occurrence is known as an underride.
Tanker trucks transport gasoline, diesel, and liquefied petroleum or natural gas, and other liquids, such as liquid sugar, milk, wine, water, and industrial chemicals. While not all of these contents constitute considered hazardous chemicals, some are not only highly combustible but also caustic to the skin. The occupants of vehicles involved in an accident with a tanker truck face risks of burns caused by a tank full of flammable fuels, as well as chemical burns if their skin comes in contact with fuel.
Partially Full Tanks
Partially full tanks also create a risk for other roadway users, as the liquid inside the tanks has enough room to slosh about and create a cargo imbalance that can cause the truck to overturn.
How Tanker Truck Accidents Occur
Most motor vehicle accidents result from human error, including accidents involving tanker trucks. The humans who drive these trucks not only make errors but also can cause accidents while trying to avoid the errors of other drivers.
Some of the most common types of truck driver errors that result in tanker truck accidents include:
- Speeding: Speeding refers not only to driving faster than the posted speed limit, but also driving too fast for the weather and traffic conditions. Speeding in a tanker truck involves significant danger, as the distance that the vehicle needs to come to a safe stop is already significantly greater in a large truck than in other types of vehicles. Speed adds to that distance, making it more likely that the vehicle will not stop before colliding with an obstacle in the roadway, such as a vehicle or pedestrian. Additionally, speeding around corners or curves in a tanker truck increases the risk of the truck rolling over.
- Distracted driving: Distracted driving constitutes a major cause of all types of motor vehicle accidents, and researchers believe that distracted driving causes more than 3,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. The three types of driving distractions include manual distractions that cause a driver to take their hands from the wheel; visual distractions that cause the driver to avert their eyes from the road; and cognitive distractions that draw the driver’s mind from the task of driving safely. Tanker drivers face all the same distractions as other drivers, including texting, other cell phone use, eating, drinking, and adjusting vehicle or GPS controls.
- Impaired driving: Due to the large size of the vehicle and the risk to others on the road, the government heavily regulates the trucking industry, and drivers must obtain a special license known as a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Part of maintaining this license involves submitting to random drug and alcohol screenings and complying with lowered legal impairment limits. Despite these protections, some truck drivers feel tempted to break the rules or don’t realize that prescription and over-the-counter medications can impair their driving skills.
- Fatigued driving: According to the federal agency that oversees the trucking industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), 13 percent of commercial truck drivers involved in accidents reported feeling fatigued at the time of the crash. Fatigue constitutes a common problem for truck drivers who often drive hundreds of miles in a shift and tend to prefer driving during the late-night hours when the highways have less traffic. However, due to our bodies’ circadian rhythm—the body’s instinctive urge to sleep during the hours of darkness—driving through the night can pose a serious risk. Another common cause of driver fatigue in tanker truck drivers and other commercial truck operators is sleep apnea, a breathing condition in which the individual stops breathing temporarily during sleep. Some sufferers can experience these pauses in breath hundreds of times during an eight-hour sleep, resulting in the feeling of exhaustion even after a full night’s rest.
Seeking Compensation After A Tanker Truck Accident
If you have sustained injuries or have lost a loved one due to an accident involving a tanker truck, you can seek compensation through a personal injury or wrongful death claim. Both constitute legal claims filed in civil court, generally within two years of the date of the accident or death, in which the claimant seeks to prove who bears legal liability for causing the accident, as well as to show the expenses and quality of life impacts that the claimant has incurred.
To show liability, a claimant must prove:
- The at-fault party owed other drivers on the road, including you, a duty of care to operate the truck in a manner protective of your physical safety and your property.
- The at-fault truck driver breached this duty of care by behaving in a manner that placed your safety and property at risk.
- The breach resulted in an accident that caused you to sustain an injury and incur related expenses and impacts.
If You Have Sustained An Injury
Individuals who have suffered injuries can seek compensation for:
- Medical expenses, including the provision of long-term care, if necessary, and assistive devices, such as a wheelchair, crutches, or prosthetic limbs.
- Lost wages if you feel too injured to work.
- Loss of future earning capacity if your injury results in permanent disabilities that render you unable to earn what you did before the accident.
- The cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle that sustained damage in the accident.
- Physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other impacts on your quality of life.
If You Have Lost A Loved One
Family members, including spouses, children, parents of an individual, or an appointed family representative, can seek compensation through a wrongful death lawsuit.
Some of the damages that surviving family members may seek include:
- The loss of the deceased’s earning capacity.
- Lost care, maintenance, support, and services provided by the deceased to family members.
- Mental pain and suffering experienced by surviving family members.
- Lost companionship, comfort, and society afforded by the deceased to a spouse.
- Lost inheritance.
Tanker Truck Accident? An Experienced Personal Injury Attorney Can Help
Tanker truck accidents rank among the most serious accidents on the road, capable of producing some of the most serious injuries a person can incur.
If you suffered serious injuries in an accident involving a tanker truck, or a tanker truck accident killed a family member, let an experienced truck accident attorney explain the process of seeking compensation and how securing legal representation can assist your claim. For your free case evaluation, contact a truck accident attorney today.