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Who is liable when a truck spills hazardous material?

Recent train accidents in West Virginia have renewed debate over the safety of shipping hazardous goods on railways through the state. This is an important debate, but it shouldn't distract from the fact that other methods of moving flammable goods and dangerous chemicals aren't necessarily safe. Truck accidents are a very serious problem on the roadways of West Virginia and throughout the nation. These can cause not only injuries from a collision, but also injuries or other damages from spilled material.

As this blog has noted many times, the liability issues after a truck accident can be complicated. They can be even more complicated when some of the damages from the accident involved hazardous material.

Personal injury lawsuits after a truck accident are typically built on the theory of negligence. Under this common legal theory, all drivers owe a duty of reasonable care to others on the road. If a truck driver breaches that duty, by acting in an unreasonably unsafe manner -- for instance, by driving drunk -- and someone else is injured because of that breach, the negligent party may be held liable for the injured party's damages.

Liability in truck accident cases gets more complicated because the negligent parties may, in many cases, include the trucking company as well as the driver. When the truck is carrying hazardous material, there are other potential sources of injury, other duties or care and other possible theories of liability.

For example, a trucking company might be shipping a toxic chemical and fail to exercise reasonable care to prevent spills in the event of a small accident. In such circumstances, if the truck were involved in an accident, a court might find that the shipping company breached its duty and that it can be held liable for damages that resulted from the breach.

The damages that stem from truck accidents can include medical expenses, lost wages, rehabilitative costs and many other types of expenses. Because truck accidents can be so destructive the dollar amount of these damages can add up to a lot of money. It's important for those who have been injured or who have lost a loved one due to another party's negligence are compensated for these and other damages. Attorneys can help the injured or their loved ones to understand their rights and legal options.

Source:, "Truck Accident FAQ," accessed Feb. 27, 2015

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