What’s scarier than a 4-ton truck overturning?
How about a 4-ton truck carrying thousands of gallons of jet fuel?
On February 20, 2020, an 18-wheeler carrying 4,000 gallons of jet fuel overturned and exploded near I-70 and I-465 in Indianapolis. Tragically, the driver died as a result of his injuries.
The accident raises a number of important questions, including what went wrong and who’s liable when a tanker truck crashes?
Let’s take a closer look.
Jeffrey “Duke” Denman of Brownsburg was driving an 18-wheeler loaded with 4,000 gallons of jet fuel when the truck hit a retaining wall and rolled over on the ramp from I-70 to I-465 in Indianapolis.
Upon impact, the fuel tank split open and caused a fire that engulfed the 18-wheeler.
Three good Samaritans, including Holly McNally who had given birth to her son just 2 days earlier, rushed to Jeffrey’s aid when he exited the vehicle on fire.
“People [were] videotaping and watching, but no one was going over there,” Holly told the Indy Star. “So I told my mom ‘I’m stopping, I’m going over there.’”
Moments after the good Samaritans extinguished the fire that engulfed Jeffrey and ushered him to safety, 2 massive explosions caused catastrophic damage to the surrounding area.
The 59-year-old driver was rushed to the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital, where he died 14 days later as a result of his injuries.
Although the truck accident is still under investigation, investigators believe the driver may have taken the exit at an unsafe speed, contributing to the rollover.
What is a rollover accident?
As the name suggests, a rollover accident occurs when a vehicle rolls onto its side. Although any vehicle can roll over, large trucks are more likely to roll over because they have a higher center of gravity.
The most common causes of rollover truck accidents are:
- Sudden swerves or lane changes
- Improper cargo loading
- Dangerous roads or weather conditions
- Failure to perform proper maintenance
Other driver errors including fatigue, distraction, or improper training
What damages can be recovered following a burn injury in Indiana?
In this fatal tanker wreck, the truck driver ultimately died from severe burn injuries.
Burns are classified based on their severity:
- First-degree burns are minor burns that affect only the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). Possible symptoms include reddening, mild pain, and swelling.
- Second-degree burns affect both the outer layer of skin and the second layer of skin (dermis). Possible symptoms include discoloration, blisters, scarring, and swelling.
- Third-degree burns reach the fat layer beneath the skin. Possible symptoms include discoloration (black, brown, or white), leathery appearance, numbness, permanent scarring, and swelling.
Indiana allows plaintiffs in burn injury lawsuits to recover both economic and non-economic damages.
Economic damages refer to losses that have an actual monetary value, such as:
- Medical expenses (including surgeries, skin grafts, and physical therapy)
- Lost wages (for the work time missed due to the injury)
- Lost earning capacity (for future work that can no longer be done because of the injury)
- Property damage
- Other expenses caused by the injury
Non-economic damages refer to the losses that don’t have a reasonably objective monetary value, such as:
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Emotional distress
Who’s liable when a truck crashes?
When a truck crashes, like the one driven by Jeffrey Denman, there are a number of parties who may be liable for the accident, including:
- The truck driver
- The owner of the truck
- The company that leased the truck from the owner
- The manufacturer of the truck
- The person who loaded the truck’s cargo
To prove liability, the plaintiff generally needs to establish that the defendant was negligent—in other words, that someone else failed to exercise reasonable care, and this failure caused the accident.
In Indiana, the legal theory of "respondeat superior" can be used to hold a truck company responsible for an accident caused by a negligent employee. Under this theory, the truck company is liable for the actions of its employee so long as the actions were:
- Unintentional, and
- Committed within the scope of the employee's employment and in furtherance of the employer's business.
Can a truck driver receive workers’ compensation following an accident?
Workers' compensation is a form of insurance that provides financial benefits to employees who are injured on the job. It’s a no-fault insurance system, meaning injured workers can receive benefits regardless of who's at fault for the injury.
Indiana requires almost all businesses to carry workers’ compensation insurance. If a truck driver is injured on the job, they may be able to receive compensation by filing a workers’ compensation claim. What’s more, if a truck driver is killed on the job, certain family members of the truck driver may be able to receive compensation by filing a workers’ compensation death claim.
Can a good Samaritan be held liable if something goes wrong?
On February 20, 2020, 3 brave souls ran toward the flames to rescue Jeffrey Denman. Although he later died, the acts of bravery weren’t lost on Jeffrey’s family who issued the following statement after his death:
"Thank you to the good Samaritans and the first responders who were on the scene of this horrific accident. Your selflessness in risking your own life to prolong Duke’s is a testament to what is great about human nature."
Like many states, Indiana doesn’t want good Samaritans to hesitate before helping someone just because they’re worried about being sued.
Under Indiana’s good Samaritan law, a person who comes upon the scene of an emergency (such as a bystander) or a person who is called to the scene of an emergency (such as an ambulance technician) and renders emergency care at the scene is immune from civil liability for any injury that results so long as the person didn't intentionally harm the person and wasn't grossly negligent.