After a collision with a truck carrying hazardous materials, the driver suffers respiratory problems. Can you sue the shipper of the chemicals as well as the truck driver?
Accidents involving a “big rig” or eighteen-wheeler are often much more complicated than a typical car accident. A fully-loaded commercial truck can easily weigh more than 80,000 pounds, putting other cars at a serious size disadvantage. The issue of liability is complex because the driver of the truck is not necessarily the only person to blame; the trucking company, manufacturer, or even maintenance crews could be held liable for the crash, depending on the circumstances. And when the truck is carrying hazardous materials, the situation can become even more complicated.
Before answering the underlying question of whether or not you can sue the shipper of hazardous materials, it is important to understand the context of a personal injury case. In order to bring a successful personal injury lawsuit in a truck accident case, you must prove the following three things:
- The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to exercise a reasonable degree of care. When it comes to car accident cases, all drivers have a legal duty to drive safely and avoid causing harm to others. When it comes to manufacturers and shipping companies, they have a duty to look out for consumer safety and not create or distribute products that are unreasonably harmful.
- The defendant breached the duty of reasonable care. This is the part of the equation that deals with negligence. The defendant must have breached his or her duty by acting in a reckless way or acting with disregard for the safety of others.
- The defendant’s breach of that duty caused harm/injury to the plaintiff. This is a crucial part of the personal injury case. You must prove that you suffered actual harm in the accident; in the case of a trucking accident and hazardous materials spill, this could include anything from physical injury to respiratory problems to property damage.
If you have established all three essentials to a personal injury case, you could have grounds for a personal injury lawsuit against the shipper of hazardous materials. However, the shipper would be subject to product liability laws. There are three main types of product liability cases:
- Design defects are flaws in the original blueprint of a product that caused it to be unreasonably dangerous or hazardous for potential users. To prove defective design, the plaintiff must be able to show the product was inherently flawed; in other words, even if the hazardous materials were used as instructed, it would still be dangerous.
- Manufacturing defects are a departure from a designer’s or manufacturer’s specifications for a product. In these cases, the manufacturer fails to produce products according to the pre-determined plan, resulting in an unsafe final product.
- Marketing defects occur when a product is improperly labeled. Marketing defects are commonly known as the failure to provide adequate warning labels or instructions. Failure to warn consumers of hidden safety hazards or provide consumers with adequate instructions for safe handling of the product can open up the company to product liability.
Most cases involving the spill of hazardous materials will deal with defective marketing or “failure to warn.” If the hazardous materials container does not have the proper safety instructions, does not display proper warnings, or does not come with instructions for safe use, the manufacturer or shipper could be found liable for injuries caused by the spill of its materials.
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Dangerous as they may be, the transportation of hazardous materials is an important part of the U.S. economy, contributing significantly to the construction, mining, and agriculture industries. More than 800,000 shipments of hazardous materials travel across the country every day, adding up to more than 3.1 billion tons of hazardous materials every year.