Anhydrous Ammonia: a Unique Type of Personal Injury Case
One of the things that makes the practice of personal injury law so interesting is all of the different niches and the unique circumstances of each. For years I have specialized in fairly well-known practice areas such as foodborne illness, Legionnaires’ disease, medical malpractice, and products liability. But I also handle cases dealing with anhydrous ammonia, which is not a well-known personal injury niche. Because so few attorneys take these cases, many people hear very little about anhydrous ammonia.
WHERE IT IS FOUND: Anhydrous ammonia usually comes from farming operations where it is used as a fertilizer. It is transported on highways in tankers or is often towed in smaller tanks known as nurse tanks. It is a substance that has to be kept under pressure to maintain a liquid form. That factor can lead to a release of the gas when it is not handled properly.
DANGER LEVEL: Anhydrous ammonia by definition does not contain water, so when it comes in contact with any bodily tissue that contains water, especially things like eyes, or the throat, or the lungs, it interacts with bodily tissues and causes burning and scarring. This happens immediately, on contact, and the injury worsens as time goes on.
INJURY TYPE: Anhydrous ammonia injuries often happen during the transfer process. One example I can think of is where a young man who was filling an anhydrous ammonia nurse tank for a farmer, was injured when the farmer drove his rig away while the hose was still coupled to the nurse tank. The coupling broke and sprayed anhydrous ammonia into the air which resulted in serious injuries to the young man’s eyes. The chemical burns that occur on the skin are just like thermal burns and are treated similarly. Serious lung injuries can also occur and are provable by diagnostic testing.
COMPLEXITY OF CASES: Cases dealing with anhydrous ammonia tend to be complex. The equipment used to store and transport anhydrous ammonia is complex. The tanks, valve couplings, and gauges are very specialized. When these complex pieces of equipment fail, people can suffer severe burns. While the cases are complex, they are usually the result of someone acting negligently and this negligence is often easy to prove.
WHO IS NEGLIGENT: Typically when an anhydrous ammonia release occurs, a person has been negligent. Someone has done something that they should not have done. These cases should be pursued.