A wrongful death lawsuit was filed in Texas in August 2015 on behalf of the family of 54-year-old Kathryn Dodgen, according to the Houston Press. In 2014 as Kathy approached an intersection, a 40-foot-long trailer pulled out from a driveway into the middle of the road. It was overcast, and Kathy did not see the trailer's thin reflector strips. She did not have time to break until her car was headed straight under the trailer. Even at the slow speed of 35 mph, the trailer ripped through the windshield of her small Hyundai Elantra and tore the roof off. Kathy never regained consciousness, and she died October 20, 2014.
The lawsuit was filed against the trailer's manufacturer, PJ Trailers, because the family and its attorneys believe the accident was entirely preventable. The suit accuses PJ Trailers of releasing a defectively designed product onto the market. There were no side-guards on the trailer which may have prevented Kathryn's car from going under it.
In 2012, a study in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention estimated that, between 2006 and 2008 (latest available statistics), 530 people died each year in crashes colliding with the side of a truck or trailer. The study further found that in all the cases of crashes like these, 89 percent of the injuries, fatal or severe, could have been mitigated had side-guards been in place.
What is an under-ride collision?
CrashForensics.com reports that under-ride accidents occur when a vehicle is forced underneath the trailer of an 18-wheeler. At its highest point, the front end of most passenger cars is roughly 30 inches above the ground compared to the bottom of a trailer which is often 45 inches above the ground or more. When there is a crash where a car crashes into a truck's trailer, the bed of the trailer typically enters the car's cabin immediately.
Some principal causes of under-ride accidents according to eInsurance are a:
- vehicle tailgating a truck
- vehicle driving in a truck’s blind spot
- motorist failing to notice the trailer in foggy and rainy conditions
- negligent act of the truck driver such as driver fatigue, distracted driving, etc.
Why is this type of collision so dangerous?
The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) reported that large truck side impacts comprised 15 percent of fatal two-vehicle collisions between large trucks and passenger vehicles during 2011 (latest data year available). One reason collisions with the sides of tractor-trailers are hazardous is that there is a large area of the trailer where under-ride may occur during these collisions. Side under-ride occurs when passenger vehicle bumpers are not at the same height and do not engage the substantial side structure of tractor-trailers. Side under-ride collisions are an important safety problem because they defeat crumple zones and prevent air bag deployment, both vital safety advances in improving protection of passenger vehicle occupants during crashes, according to TruckSafety.org.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSA) says that:
Airbags will not deploy in some under-ride collisions when the sensors to trigger them are not contacted by vehicle structures.
Crumple zones do not work as intended in under-ride collisions when relevant passenger vehicle structures fail to engage tractor-trailer structures.
The occupant’s safety cage can be compromised when under-ride allows the passenger vehicle to sustain impacts at the level of the windshield and other areas above the hood. This effect can result in deaths and severe injuries due to intrusion of vehicle components.
What efforts are being made to prevent under-ride accidents?
The IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) reports that modern trailers have a number of safety features designed to combat these problems. However, they are often inadequate. Trailers designed after 1996 are required to have a rear under-ride guard that is 22 inches above the ground or lower. The IIHS believes that in many accidents this height can still be extremely dangerous, and it does not address side-collisions at all. Any trailer that was built after 1993 is required to have reflective tape on its sides. When the tape is dirty, however, it can provide no benefit.
Municipal truck fleets in Portland, OR, Washington, D.C., Boston & Cambridge, MA and New York City have adopted side-guard protection.
The Boston Globe reported that in 2014, the city of Boston was the first in the nation to require large, commercial trucks to install side-guards. The barriers can take several forms, including a set of rails blocking off the open space under the truck. The ordinance requires vehicles over 10,000 pounds and tractor-trailers with a combined weight over 26,000 pounds to have guards no higher than 21.5 inches from the ground and be able to withstand a force of up to 400 pounds. Noncompliant trucks face fines from $100 for a first offense, and peak at the potential of termination of the city contract.
Even though federal law does not require side under-ride guards, the NTSB has been issuing warnings about this safety hazard since 1968. Most recently, in the spring of 2014, the NTSB released a safety recommendation suggesting the NHTSA require under-ride guards for all vehicles that weigh over 10,000 pounds.
"When you or someone you know is involved in an accident with an 18-wheeler, be sure to contact an experienced attorney before giving a statement or signing any documents. We at Spivey Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys have the experience of dealing with these complicated cases," said Fort Myers Truck Accident Attorney, Randall Spivey.
Fort Myers Truck Accident Attorney, Randall L. Spivey is a Board Certified Trial Attorney – the highest recognition for competence bestowed by the Florida Bar and a distinction earned by just one (1%) percent of Florida attorneys. He has handled over 2,000 personal injury and wrongful death cases throughout Florida. For a free and confidential consultation to discuss your legal rights, contact the Spivey Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.A., in Lee County at 239.337.7483 or toll free at 1.888.477.4839,or by email to Randall@SpiveyLaw.com. Visit SpiveyLaw.com for more information. You can contact Spivey Law Firm, Personal Injury Attorneys, P.A.in Charlotte County at 941.764.7748 and in Collier County 239.793.7748.