As a trucking accident attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, I see a wide range of messes resulting from overturned tractor trailers. We had a case last year in which a load of frozen hamburger meat spilled all over I-75 in south Georgia. The state trooper said his biggest problem was crowd control, as local deputies tried to salvage the load for a big cookout.

Today’s news feeds included two sharply contrasting cargo spills in truck wrecks — ammonia nitrate on I-20 in eastern Georgia and Oreo cookies in Illinois.

At Morris, Illinois, about 50 miles south of Chicago, a truck loaded with 14 tons of double-stuffed Oreo cookies overturned, spilling cookies all over the highway. No, it wasn’t in a collision with a milk truck.

A potentially more serious situation was a wreck on I-20 about 45 miles west of Augusta, Georgia.  About 2:30 AM, a truck loaded with 24 tons of ammonium nitrate used both as fertilizer and as an oxidyzing agent in explosives, overturned and began leaking. Three people were reported injured.

Ammonium nitrate is used in powerful military explosives such as the "daisy cutter" bomb.  It has been involved in a number of distastrous accidental explosions, most notably the Oklahoma City federal building bombing in 1995 which killed 168 (or perhaps 169) people and  the Texas City explosion on a ship in 1947 which killed 547. 

Ammonium nitrate mixed with diesel fuel is quite a volatile mix. If this spill occurred in a heavily populated area, and a spark was added, it could have had monumentally catastrophic consequences.

Motor carriers haulilng ammonium nitrate must comply with strict "HazMat" shipping regulations and carry at least $5,000,000 liability insurance. "HazMat" truck drivers must clear security check by the Department of Homeland Security. 

"HazMat" truck drivers have told me in emotional detail of the added stress involved in their jobs. Recently one who delivers gasoline to service stations five or six nights per week told me how every year he has worked in that job, one or two fellow drivers — usually those who are short on training and experience — have died in explosions and fires.  He explained how the divorce rates for HazMat drivers are apparently higher than average, which he attributed to the combination of higher pay and higher stress.

If I were a truck driver, I think I’d rather stick with loads of Oreos.


The Shigley Law Firm  represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases arising from motor carrier accidents statewide in Georgia.  Recently elected Secretary of the State Bar of Georgia, Ken Shigley has been designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and former chair of both the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He focuses on cases arising from truck wrecks and accidents (tractor trailers truck wrecks, bus wrecks, semi truck wrecks,18 wheeler truck wrecks, big rig truck wrecks, log truck wrecks, dump truck wrecks.