The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that half of the fatal crashes between large trucks and passenger vehicles involve underride accidents where the top half of the car is sheared off. Airbags and safety harnesses provide no protection in underride collisions. Underride accidents occur when a car collides with the rear or side of a truck-trailer and submarines underneath. The force of the impact combined with the weight of the trailer can crush or shear off the car’s roof. Occupants often suffer severe or fatal head and upper torso injuries and sometimes decapitation.
Big rigs are required to have rear underride guards to keep cars from traveling beneath the back of a trailer. Usually two vertical steel bars support a horizontal bar less than 2 feet from the ground. They are called “Mansfield Bars” named after a deadly underride crash that killed actress Jayne Mansfield fifty years ago.
Almost 600 drivers and passengers were killed in underride collisions in 2015. Rear end collisions with trailers caused 292 deaths and side collisions with a trailer resulted in 301 deaths.
Side guards are not required by federal regulation. Safety advocates say regulations need updating to prevent hundreds of similar deaths annually. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York called on regulators to order trucks to be equipped with side guards that would prevent sliding under the trailer. Three cities, Boston, New York and Seattle require City-owned trucks to have side guards to help eliminate deaths and injuries. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says side guards could prevent hundreds of deaths per year in the U.S. Congress is being asked to mandate comprehensive underride protection.
Guards that comply with the federal minimum requirements for underride guards can sometimes fail. Many underride guards are constructed of inferior metal or have poor welds, making them unable to withstand the crash forces. In underride death cases there may be a product defect that caused the injuries and death. Attorneys for injured or killed occupants should have testing performed to determine the strength and effectiveness of the design of the underguard and to test the metal quality.
The Van Blois Law has extensive experience in truck-trailer underride cases. In a series of accidents at the same intersection in Tracy, California four occupants suffered permanent brain damage as a result of underride collisions with truck trailers. In the first case a truck trailer blocked the road while making a left turn in the dark at the poorly lighted intersection. Three men on their way to work were killed as their car went underneath the trailer shearing off the roof of the car. Approximately two years later in another crash at the same intersection, under similar circumstances, the driver was killed and the passenger suffered severe brain damage in an underride collision. The cases resulted in multi-million dollar settlements at trial.
In another underride case near Stockton, California, our law firm obtained an excellent settlement for the family of a father who was killed when his car went underneath a trailer making a left turn in heavy fog.