Parker Waichman LLP is investigating potential lawsuits on behalf of individuals who were injured or who died due to Tractor Trailer underride accidents.
Typically underride accidents involve a large trucks and a passenger vehicle. The passenger hits the truck from behind and slides under the trailer of the truck. The issue occurs when the truck is high enough to allow most vehicle hoods and bodies to clear the undercarriage of the truck; however, the windshield, roof and passenger area of the vehicle is crushed or sheared off as the vehicle slides under the truck.
Specifically, an underride crash is a collision in which a passenger vehicle—a car, pickup truck, SUV, or motorcycle—slides partially or fully underneath a tractor-trailer.
An underride generally refers to a vehicle collision in which a passenger vehicle enters the open space underneath a tractor-trailer’s frame. An underground crash occurs because of the structural incompatibility of the vehicles during the crash. Specifically, the crash-absorbing structure of most passenger vehicles—which is typically the strongest at or below the vehicle’s hood level—is closer to the road than the trailer’s structural components.
This incongruity may occur when a vehicle experiences impact with the rear or side of a tractor-trailer. Because of the issue between the crash absorbing structures, increased passenger compartment disturbance, most often at shoulder and head level occurs. Underride crashes result in significantly increased rates of serious and/or fatal injuries when compared to accidents in which the underride is not involved.
Federal Underride Regulations
In 1953 Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) 223 (equipment) and 224 (vehicle) were enacted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and regulate what vehicles must be equipped with an underride guard, as well as the minimum performance requirements of a guard to prevent underride accidents.
The Standards were revised in 1998 to minimize risks of passenger compartment disturbance and mandate that large trucks use rear impact guards and reflectors or reflector tape on trucks manufactured after 1998.
This means that many trucks are not mandated to follow these requirements. Regulations also mandate that the structure be no more than 22 inches above ground level and 12 inches in front of the most rear portion of the truck or trailer and to withstand prescribed loading parameters.
While the original and revised safety requirements are meant to minimize underride accidents, some question if they are effective. In fact, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety performed a crash study on the effectiveness of rear impact guards and discovered that, even at speeds as low as 35 miles per hour, guards could tear off or bend forward.
This will enable the passenger car to slide under the truck. Also, in rear-end collisions that were not 100 percent head-on crashes with the passenger car only partially hitting the rear of the truck, there was a high number of underride accidents, even with guards in place.
Truck Underride Accidents Lead to Serious Injuries
Individuals who survive underride collision are at very high risk for serious, life-altering injuries and death, especially for the passengers in the vehicle that has been impacted. Serious property damage may also be the result of an underride accident. Some serious physical injuries associated with underride accidents include, in part:
- Spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
Truck Underride Accident Statistics
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), underride truck accidents are a significant cause of injuries and fatalities annually. For example:
- Approximately 423 people die in underride accidents with large trucks every year
- Over 5,000 people are seriously injured in truck underride accidents each year.
- Over 70 percent of all deaths in large truck accidents are passengers in other vehicles.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted a study on truck underride accidents and reviewed 1,000 truck accidents that occurred between 2001 and 2003. Of these accidents, 115 involved a passenger vehicle hitting the rear of a truck. A total of 78 percent were deemed underride accidents and 23 of the 28 accidents that involved a death in the passenger vehicle, underride damage was also reported.
Underride Accident Liability
Typically, the fault for underride accidents usually lies with the driver of the commercial truck; this, even when the smaller vehicle crashes into the rear of the truck, which is typically a sign of fault. Signs of truck driver negligence that might lead to underride accidents include a failure to have working brake and/or tail lighting, failure to have correct reflectors or other visibility markers on the truck; and breaking suddenly due to impairment or distraction.
Underride accident investigations look to determine if there was a failure in the passenger vehicle’s safety systems or in the tractor-trailers underride guards that may have contributed to the seriousness of the crash. This involves a comprehensive reconstruction of the crash, which enables investigators to determine change in velocity (delta-V) or the severity of the collision.
If an established delta-V is made, investigators may compare vehicular damage, physical injuries, and passenger compartment intrusion against the anticipated values for crashes of a similar enormity. In cases in which injuries and vehicle intrusion exceed anticipated costs, there may be cause to investigate potential defects in safety systems.
Failed underride guards are may cause excessive collision force, as may defects in design, material, or assembly. Tractor-trailer accidents are among the deadliest crashes on America’s roads and some of the most devastating—and preventable—crashes involve underride.
In many cases involving an underride, a portion of the tractor-trailer slices into the passenger compartment—also known as the survival area—of the car. This type of crash leads to catastrophic injury or death to persons in the vehicle.
Fault for underride crashes most often rests with the truck driver and the trucking company that either did not provide proper training or furnish its trailer with the appropriate equipment to prevent underride accident tragedies.
Side underride accidents may occur when a trucker fails to check the truck’s blind spot before taking a right turn. An underride accident may also involve a tractor that is performing an unsafe left turn or U-turn. In urban areas, underride crashes often involve bicycle riders and pedestrians, which often lead to disastrous injuries.
Trailer manufacturers and distributors are expected to protect the public from known and foreseeable risks of harm; however, rear guards are often not strong enough and side guards are often not used. Despite hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries on American highways every year involving underride issues, irresponsible trucking companies and trailer manufacturers will often place profits ahead of safety, claiming that each pound a guard weighs may be a pound the trailer does not haul.
Meanwhile, for the many passenger vehicle safety features—airbags, seatbelts, and crumple zones—none of these are able to protect its occupants from death or catastrophic injury when trucking companies and trailer manufacturers choose not to use a simple guard to prevent underride.
Need Legal Help for Victims of Underride Crashes?
If you or someone you know sustained an injury that may be related to an accident involving a tractor-trailer underride, you may have valuable legal rights. For a free, no obligation lawsuit evaluation with one of the experienced underride accident lawyers at Parker Waichman LLP, please fill out our online form, or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).
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