All types of accidents with semi-trucks, commercial vehicles, and big rigs stand to be extremely dangerous, including truck underride accidents. An underride accident occurs when a smaller vehicle collides with a truck from the side or rear and slides right underneath the semi-truck’s trailer.

Since the semi-truck’s trailer is so much higher than the car, these accidents can easily happen, potentially crushing the front and top of the smaller vehicle. In addition, underride accidents often cause serious injuries or even fatalities.

Some semi-trucks have a built-in underride guard, which is a metal barrier preventing smaller vehicles from sliding underneath. These guards may not be strong enough to withstand a collision’s impact.

Anyone involved in such an injury accident needs the knowledge and experience of a seasoned truck accident attorney on their side. In fact, calling an attorney should be one of the first steps you take after a truck accident. 

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What Is a Truck Underride Accident?

A truck underride accident is often devastating and can result in traumatic injuries and fatalities. An underride accident is when a smaller, lower vehicle collides with the side or back of a tractor-trailer and slides right underneath. These types of truck crashes are among the most fatal on the road. Sadly, estimates indicate that over 300 people lose their lives in underride accidents in the U.S. yearly.

When a car slides or wrecks underneath a tractor-trailer, the top is often completely sheared off. These types of accidents almost always result in severe injuries and fatalities.

In an underride accident, the first point of contact with the side or rear of the truck is typically the vehicle’s windshield. As such, most car safety features, especially the front and rear crumple zones, won’t even have a chance to do their job in an underride crash. Considering this fact, even low-speed underride crashes can be fatal to vehicle occupants.

Underride accidents can happen because of:

  • Side underride collisions. Usually occur when a truck is crossing or turning onto a street or is making a U-turn. On-coming drivers in other vehicles may fail to see the truck crossing their path. Truck visibility is crucial, and most of these types of underride accidents happen at night in the darkness. In some cases, other drivers mistakenly assume that the truck is moving faster than it really is and will clear the roadway in time before they get there.
  • Rear underride collisions. A passenger vehicle may slam right under the back end of a truck or semi-trailer. These can happen to trucks with poor markings or trucks that are moving slowly or parked at the side of the road. A slow-moving truck sometimes startles other drivers, especially on a highway with higher-speed traffic.
  • Front underride collisions. These occur when a truck drives over a smaller vehicle, causing it to become lodged under the front of the big rig. Surprisingly, over half of these crashes involve the front of the truck. Poor truck maintenance, specifically of the brake system, is often to blame for these types of underride accidents. A partial or complete brake failure can easily lead to a front underride crash. Other causes can be truck driver distraction and following too closely behind another vehicle.

Weather and dangerous road conditions can also play a part in any type of underride accident, as vehicles that spin out of control on slippery or snowy roads may slide right under a tractor-trailer.

Rear Guards Requirements, No Side Guard Requirements

To help reduce these types of accidents, guards added to the rear of a trailer have been legally necessary under National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) regulations for some time.

These guards are also commonly called “Mansfield” guards, as they became mandatory after the death of entertainer Jayne Mansfield in a truck underride crash. In that accident, the top of the car was sheared off, and the three adults in the front seat died instantly. This crash called the risks of underride crashes to the attention of the public and government regulators.

Studies show that having strong underride guards on the rear of semis is effective in preventing a vehicle from sliding underneath when hitting the rear of a commercial truck. Still, many of these rear guards are aging, making them weaker than when installed. Instead of acting as a strong barrier to keep the smaller vehicle from going underneath the trailer, they can fail when needed most during an accident.

In addition, several types of large trucks are exempt from mandated guards, including so-called single-unit trucks. Single-unit trucks are the type where the cab and cargo area are on a single chassis.

They include:

  • Home heating oil delivery trucks
  • Dump trucks
  • Garbage trucks
  • Box trucks

Also exempt from this law are trucks with rear wheels set very close to the back of the trailer and various types of special-purpose trucks. Single-unit trucks, therefore, provide no underride protections for smaller vehicles.

Currently, there are no requirements for side guards on these large tractor-trailers. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), responsible for investigating accidents, recommends to NHTSA that all new trailers have side guards installed. Though previous proposed rules requiring side guards failed to pass, the DOT recently proposed yet another rule trying to mandate side guards on all semi-trucks.

Enacting new and evidence-based standards for rear guards on tractor-trailers and instituting new rules for side guards can save lives and should be a priority for both legislatures and trucking manufacturers. Unfortunately, many people have lost their lives or suffered severe injuries because truck owners have yet to take these actions.

What Causes an Underride Accident?

Underride collisions are incredibly deadly. When a smaller passenger vehicle passes under a large truck, many dangerous situations can occur in a matter of seconds. For example, the truck’s tires can burst, causing the trailer to crush the vehicles beneath it, or a vehicle can lose its top, injuring passengers as it passes below the trailer. No matter the situation, survival chances are usually low.

An underride accident can happen due to:

  • Improperly maneuvered lane changes or turns
  • Fast stops, leading to a rear-end collision
  • Inconsistent speed outside the flow of traffic
  • A car in the truck’s blind spot during a lane change
  • A truck driver failing to use a turn signal

Underride accidents are prevalent with small vehicles or motorcycles. Suppose a truck driver brakes too quickly, and the vehicles behind it aren’t expecting it. In that case, they won’t have enough time or distance to stop and can hit and get trapped underneath the back of the truck’s trailer.

How well another driver can see a truck has to do with target conspicuity. Target conspicuity deals with how well a vehicle visually stands out from the background surrounding it—especially at night in the dark.

A truck might stand out better if there is more contrast in the:

  • Color
  • Shape
  • Size
  • Brightness
  • Movement

If a large truck blends in with its surroundings, it’s naturally harder for other motorists to see it. However, target conspicuity is not foolproof, as specific contrasts might appear earlier in the daytime. When night comes, seeing a truck in any situation can present challenges.

Underride Accidents and Truck Driver Responsibility

Truck drivers aren’t always at fault for underride accidents. However, they do have a duty to other drivers to drive safely and in a way that doesn’t harm others. If truck drivers aren’t careful and reasonable, they can cause accidents. Underride accidents are incredibly disastrous, and a trucker can be legally responsible if their negligence leads to an injury or deadly accident.

Depending on the situation, truck driver or trucking company negligence might include:

  • Failing to use proper underride guards
  • Failing to maintain their truck
  • Not using or keeping vehicle lights properly
  • Failing to meet conspicuity standards

Due to the nature of their industry, truck drivers often have strict deadlines. Trucking companies frequently pressure drivers to cut corners to save time and expenses that can put all drivers on the road at risk.

Although truckers have legally mandated regular brakes, they forgo sleep to push their load further faster. Driver fatigue is common in all types of truck accidents. Some truck drivers will even turn to alcohol or drugs to deal with the grueling schedules.

Innocent victims and their families shouldn’t have to bear the financial, emotional, and other burdens of the driver’s mistakes. This is why many decide to hire a truck accident attorney and pursue compensation for their damages.

Damages in Underride Truck Accident Cases

Anyone injured due to another party’s careless, negligent, or intentional actions is entitled to receive financial compensation. Under state tort laws, the at-fault party must restore an injured party to its pre-injury state. Since they can’t undo what happened, they can do this by providing a full and fair monetary settlement. An injured party’s compensation usually falls into two categories; special damages and general damages.

Special or economic damages refer to the financial losses you suffer from your injuries. They are relatively straightforward to prove and calculate with receipts, bills, and income loss statements from your employer.

They can include:

  • Past and future medical bills
  • Prescription medications
  • Medical equipment
  • Rehabilitation and therapies
  • Damaged or destroyed property
  • Lost income

General damages refer to intangible losses and inconveniences from an injury. They don’t have an inherent value or any bills or receipts to prove them.

Also known as non-economic damages, they include:

  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Scarring or disfigurement
  • Emotional distress
  • Lost quality of life
  • Mental anguish
  • Humiliation
  • Loss of consortium

Your truck accident attorney can identify all the damages you should seek in your specific situation. 

How Long Do You Have to File a Truck Underride Accident Case?

The statute of limitations details the deadline for filing an injury claim in each state. Each state has its own statute, ensuring that personal injury cases are relevant and based on recent evidence.

You can miss this crucial deadline if you wait to contact a truck accident attorney. You can still file a claim; however, the opposing party will likely request that the court dismiss the case due to the expired statute of limitations, and the court will usually grant their request.

Keep in mind that a truck accident lawsuit is a legal process that you cannot rush. When you hire an attorney, they will take their time to ensure they do everything correctly to maximize your compensation. So it’s up to you to contact one as soon as possible.

Who Is Liable for Truck Accidents?

Each truck accident case is unique, and a lawyer should carefully assess the situation to determine all possible sources of liability. What makes matters even worse is that frequently there are intricate layers of trucking company ownership and business structures specifically used to limit liability in the event of an accident.

Responsible parties in a big rig accident might include:

  • The truck’s owner
  • The truck’s driver
  • The trailer’s owner
  • The trucking company
  • The warehouse or workers who loaded the truck
  • The shop responsible for truck maintenance
  • Manufacturers of defective brakes, tires, or other truck parts
  • The road design company or a government municipality

In addition, for many truck drivers, it’s not the first time they have violated safety rules. They might have a record that the trucking company is aware of but selectively ignores. Sometimes, the company encourages dangerous driving to guarantee on-time deliveries.

Trucking companies are legally required to maintain detailed records regarding their:

  • Hiring and training practices
  • Fleet and equipment maintenance and repairs
  • Their drivers’ driving times

It takes a seasoned truck accident attorney with a comprehensive understanding of state and federal trucking regulations to get you the justice you deserve.

Did You Suffer Injuries in an Underride Truck Accident? Contact a Truck Accident Attorney Today

Steven A. Bagen Attorney for Wrongful Death Cases near Gainesville, Florida area
Steven A. Bagen, Truck Accident Attorney

Being involved in a traumatic truck accident, such as an underride accident, is life-altering. Stand up for your legal rights and the financial recovery you deserve by meeting with an experienced personal injury attorney today.