Large tractor-trailers have a much higher clearance from the ground than do other vehicles on the road. For this reason, federal regulations require that trucking companies install underride guards in the rear of their vehicles. If a smaller passenger car were to rear-end a tractor-trailer, the car would become wedged underneath the larger vehicle, collapsing the car’s windshield, and likely killing anyone in the front seat. However, federal regulations do not require trucking companies to install underride guards on the sides of their vehicles. You will see some trucking companies that do so anyway. However, many don’t want to absorb the expense and this results in avoidable fatalities.
Underride Guards Save Lives
A recent article by NBC news raised concerns about side underride accidents. More than 200 people per year lose their lives after their vehicle becomes crushed underneath a tractor-trailer. As of yet, however, Congress has failed to pass legislation making side underride guards a requirement for tractor-trailers. These are deaths that safety experts say could have been avoided had side underride guards prevented the vehicles from becoming wedged beneath the tractor-trailer.
In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board recommends legislation that would make side underride guards a requirement. But it is likely that the trucking lobby has forestalled the passage of laws that would require side underride guards on all tractor-trailers. There are at least some trucking companies out there that don’t want to absorb the costs associated with installing side underride guards on their fleet of vehicles.
Failure to Employ Life-Saving Technology
Nearly 50 years ago, Jayne Mansfield was killed in a devastating underride accident involving a tractor-trailer. This highly-publicized event raised concerns that large tractor-trailers posed an unnecessary risk to others on the road. But it wouldn’t be until 1998 that Congress would pass legislation requiring underride guards on the rear of vehicles. These underride guards are made entirely of metal and can prevent small cars from becoming wedged beneath tractor-trailers.
While you do sometimes see underride guards on the sides of vehicles, they are made of a much flimsier material. European trucks are required to have these underride guards beneath their vehicles, but American trucking companies are not. While some people have praised the European regulation, others note that these underride guards are designed to prevent pedestrian and bicycle accidents. If a car hits the side of a truck with enough force, it could fold the underride guard.
The lack of underride guards often becomes the basis for litigation when someone is injured or killed underneath a truck. In a notable case from Indiana, a woman was killed when her car spun out and ended up underneath a tractor-trailer. The rear wheels of the tractor-trailer proceeded to run over the vehicle. The woman died before she could be evacuated.
Even in cases where the accident may at least partly be the fault of the driver in the car or caused by some dangerous road condition, the failure to install underride guards can form the basis of litigation against trucking companies. Plaintiffs can argue that since there exists a life-saving technology that was not employed by the trucking company, the death would not have occurred but for the fact that the trucking company cut costs by neglecting to install it. By and large, juries are receptive to this argument because no one likes to see public safety compromised so that some corporation can make a little bit more money.
In fact, the Truck Trailers Manufacturers Association has opposed the installation of side underride guards for years. This is despite the fact that these companies are getting hit with multi-million-dollar settlements and verdicts after killing other drivers on the road.
Failure to Correct Install Underride Guard
Recently, a Boynton Beach, FL man was killed after the underride guard on the truck he collided with failed. A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed on behalf of the man whose vehicle spun out on a rain-slicked road, collapsing the underride guard that was supposed to save his life. That flatbed truck tore through the passenger side of the man’s vehicle, killing him instantly.
Named in the lawsuit is the company that manufactured the underride guard, the company that installed the underride guard, and the company that owned the truck (among others). In this case, it was the rear underride guard that collapsed. There are not, however, mandatory inspections on underride guards. There is currently a bipartisan effort to pass legislation that would require mandatory inspections of all safety technology that is required by statute on tractor-trailers.
Of the 10,000 tractor-trailers that are pulled over annually, The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance noted that in roughly 500 cases, the rear underride guards were defective, cracked, or otherwise unfit to serve in their only capacity.
Part of the problem is that underride guards can easily be damaged when trucks dock to make deliveries. This wear and tear accrues over time, weakening the underride guard and making it unsafe. More safety inspections would certain alleviate this problem, but due to lobbying efforts, no current legislation exists.
On the other hand, those who are injured by absent or defective underride guards have only one recourse. They can sue the trucking company or others whose negligence contributed to their injuries. However, since death so often results from these problems, many families are left filing lawsuits on behalf of loved ones who can no longer file the lawsuit themselves. These lawsuits may result in multi-million-dollar verdicts, but families suffer all the same and the trucking companies seem more willing to absorb the costs related to litigation than the costs related to improving the safety of their trucks.
Talk to a Kennesaw, GA Truck Accident Attorney Today
If you’ve been injured by a large commercial truck, defective truck technology, or an underskilled driver, the attorneys at the Ghai Law Firm can help you recover damages related to your injuries. If your loved one has been killed in a trucking accident, we can hold the trucking company accountable by filing a lawsuit on your behalf. Talk to us today for a free consultation.