Why Do Tanker Truck Accidents Present Unique Dangers in San Diego?
by John Gomez | Last Updated: September 17, 2021
San Diego is no stranger to tanker truck accidents. A tanker truck headed to the tank farm in Mission Valley takes a corner or a curve too quickly, overturning and spilling fuel on the ground. Environmental damage isn’t the only risk of this scenario. With the presence of sports stadiums in the area—previously the Jack Murphy Stadium, now SDCCU, and the new Aztec Stadium—other vehicles are often involved in San Diego tanker truck crashes, and the occupants of those vehicles can be seriously injured or killed.
If you were injured or have lost a loved one in a San Diego tanker truck accident, the financial and psychological impacts can overwhelm you. Find an experienced truck accident attorney to recover compensation for the specific impacts you experienced and put their experience to work in ensuring your right to compensation from the responsible individual or entity.
Meanwhile, read below for information about San Diego tanker truck accidents and the general process for recovering compensation if you are injured or lose a loved one in an accident.
Tanker Trucks and the Mission Valley Terminal
The Mission Valley Terminal (MVT) is a 67-acre site filled with gasoline storage tanks. The facility serves as a central hub for storing and distributing gasoline throughout the county. MVT has a long and checkered history with regional governments, as some of these fuel tanks leaked, causing soil and groundwater contamination. After years of legal battles over these fuel leaks, the city and Kinder-Morgan—the terminal owner—reached a $20 million settlement in 2016.
Despite a settlement that provided money for future cleanup—as well as more than $75 million spent by Kinder-Morgan in preceding years to improve the storage infrastructure, particularly closest to the previous and future sports stadiums—there remain extraordinary hazards due to the combination of truck traffic and vehicle and pedestrian traffic, related to both construction and events at the stadium.
The Dangers Posed by Tanker Trucks
Tanker trucks are in a class of vehicles known as commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). Like tractor-trailers, tanker trucks consist of a truck (tractor) with a large storage tank attached to it where fuel is stored. All CMVs pose more significant risks to other roadway users, mostly due to the massive size of the vehicle. As a result, San Diego tanker truck drivers have a higher duty of care than drivers of other vehicles.
This duty requires:
A higher amount of liability insurance, to pay for the more severe injuries and property damage likely to result from an accident with a tanker truck.
A commercial driver’s license, with maintenance requirements that include random and regular drug and alcohol screening.
Substantial blind spots. A blind spot is an area around the vehicle where the driver cannot see using rear- or side-view mirrors. All vehicles have them. On smaller vehicles, the blind spot tends to run along the broadsides of the vehicle, toward the rear. However, the larger the vehicle, the larger the blind spots. Tanker trucks have blind spots on all four sides, with the passenger-side blind spot extending the width of two travel lanes and the length of the truck.
Wide turns. Large trucks lack the maneuverability to make a sharp corner without swinging the front of the truck into other travel lanes to complete the maneuver.
An increased stopping distance. Vehicles travel some distance after the driver has perceived a hazard on the roadway and has braked. As the brakes engage, they pull the vehicle to a safe stop. The heavier the vehicle, the longer the distance needed to stop; large trucks require up to 40 percent more distance to come to a complete stop than passenger cars do.
A higher ground clearance. Tanker trucks often feature just enough space between the bottom of the tank and the roadway for a smaller vehicle to slip into during an accident. This often-deadly occurrence is known as an underride.
A higher center of gravity. Tankers are tall vehicles with a high center of gravity that makes them prone to rolling over during emergency driving maneuvers or when attempting to negotiate a sharp curve or corner at speed.
Tanker trucks pose an even greater danger than other CMVs, as they carry toxic, caustic, and flammable materials that can cause not only environmental damage, but also injuries or death from fires, explosions, or contact with and inhalation of chemicals.
How Tanker Truck Accidents Happen
A variety of issues can give rise to a San Diego tanker truck accident.
Some of the more common ones include:
Distracted driving. One would hope that a CMV operator hauling highly toxic materials would be paying attention to the roadway. Unfortunately, tanker truck drivers face the same temptation to engage in driving distractions such as texting or other cell phone use, eating or drinking, adjusting vehicle or GPS controls while driving, or external distractions such as heavy activity in work zones.
Fatigue. Truck driving can be a mentally exhausting job, requiring the driver to spend hours behind the wheel of the vehicle. According to the agency that oversees and regulates the U.S. trucking industry, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), approximately 13 percent of all truck drivers involved in accidents are fatigued at the time of the accident. Fatigue not only poses the extreme hazard of a driver falling asleep behind the wheel, but also causes deficits to the skills the driver needs to safely operate the tanker truck, such as signal detection, speed control, the ability to brake effectively or maintain a single travel lane, and the ability to make good decisions.
Impairment. While truck drivers must undergo random and regular drug and alcohol screenings, people don’t always follow the rules and find ways to get around them. For truck drivers holding a CDL, the legal alcohol impairment limit for operating a commercial motor vehicle in California is 0.04 grams of alcohol per deciliter of blood, which is half the alcohol content permitted by drivers of passenger cars. Alcohol is not the only concern with impaired driving and tanker trucks; other drugs—including illicit, prescription, or even over-the-counter—can impair drivers.
Speeding. Truck drivers are often on tight schedules and may feel tempted to drive faster than is safe for road conditions. Many San Diego roads are winding, which leads to accidents that result from the driver being unable to negotiate a curve in the road at a safe speed. Due to the vehicle’s high center of gravity, it will often overturn when this happens.
Injuries Caused in San Diego Tanker Truck Accidents
The type of injuries sustained in San Diego tanker truck accidents can be extremely severe or even fatal, particularly due to the size discrepancy between the truck and a passenger vehicle.
Some of the common injuries associated with this type of accident include:
Traumatic brain injuries
Spinal cord injuries
Damage to the spinal discs or vertebrae in the back and neck
Burns caused by hazardous materials, including in some cases to the throat and lungs from breathing in fumes from the spill
Limb amputations due to contact with sharp objects or as a result of a crushing injury
Seeking Compensation for Harm and Losses after a San Diego Tanker Truck Accident
To have a successful outcome for your San Diego tanker truck lawsuit, you must prove liability (legal responsibility) of the defendant for the accident as well as provide evidence of the expenses and impacts you suffered and seek compensation for.
You prove liability by establishing:
That the at-fault party had a duty to respond to the circumstance in a way that would show reasonable concern for the safety and property of others. For example, a tanker truck driver must operate their vehicle safely by following federal and state laws. This is referred to as their duty of care.
That the at-fault party breached their duty of care. This refers to the at-fault party’s actions that violated the duty of care. In a San Diego tanker truck accident, if the tanker truck driver is the at-fault party, examples of a breach in the duty of care could involve speeding or driving while distracted, fatigued, or impaired.
That the breach in the duty of care resulted in the accident, causing injury or death and the incurrence of financial losses or other impacts.
The tanker truck driver is not the only potentially liable party in this type of accident. One of the many services an experienced San Diego tanker truck accident lawyer can provide is a determination of all potential sources of liability and all associated insurance resources that can compensate you.
Others whom you can hold liable for your injuries in a San Diego tanker truck accident case can include:
The trucking company
Other drivers whose careless or reckless actions contributed to the crash
Governmental agencies tasked with maintaining and repairing roadways
Manufacturers of parts used on the truck that are defective and contributed to the accident
Compensation in a tanker truck accident case where an individual is injured may include:
Loss of future earning capacity
Property damage, such as the cost of repairing or replacing the vehicle you were driving when the accident occurred
Physical pain and suffering
Loss of the enjoyment of life
Loss of consortium, for loss of physical intimacy and companionship from a serious injury
Family members who may file a wrongful death lawsuit to seek compensation for losses related to a wrongful death may include the deceased’s spouse or domestic partner, children, grandchildren, and other family members who depended on the deceased for financial support.
Compensation in a wrongful death claim may include:
Loss of financial support and other benefits provided by the deceased to family members
The reasonable cost of household services that were previously performed by the deceased
Funeral and burial expenses
Loss of love, companionship, comfort, care, assistance, protection, affection, society, and moral support provided by the decedent
Loss of consortium
Loss of decedent’s training and guidance for their children
An Experienced San Diego Tanker Truck Attorney Can Help
In an instant, a San Diego tanker truck accident can completely change your life and leave you terrified and overwhelmed with the prospect of bringing a legal claim to pay for the expenses and impacts of your injury. Let an experienced San Diego tanker truck attorney help.
John Gomez founded the firm alone in 2005. Today, John acts as President and Lead Trial Attorney. He has been voted by his peers as a top ten San Diego litigator in three separate fields: Personal Injury, Insurance and Corporate Litigation. Since 2000, he has recovered over $800 million in settlements and verdicts for his clients with more than 160 separate recoveries of one million dollars or more. A prolific trial lawyer, John has tried to jury verdict more than 60 separate cases.