Semi-trucks are among the largest vehicles on America’s roadways in both weight and size. Since semi-trucks are so big, any accident involving one carries the potential for catastrophic injury. However, some classes of semi-truck crashes are considerably more dangerous than others. Underride accidents, in particular, are among those most likely to culminate in death or life-altering injury.
Underride accidents don’t happen often, but they are incredibly serious. An underride accident happens when another vehicle travels beneath a semi-truck’s “tractor” or “trailer.” Since trailers often have high ground clearance, it is possible for a passenger vehicle to not only travel underneath the trailer, but to become stuck underneath it.
When one or both vehicles is traveling at a high enough speed, the entire top portion of the passenger vehicle can be cut off, leading to serious injury or death. Decapitations are not uncommon in underride accidents.
An underride accident can occur for any number of reasons, but they often happen when:
- A passenger vehicle rear-ends a semi-truck. This might happen if the semi-truck does not have working brake lights or makes an abrupt or otherwise unexpected stop.
- A passenger vehicle is sideswiped by a semi-truck which is improperly merging lanes, is attempting to overtake another vehicle, or doesn’t see the vehicle in the side mirrors.
- A passenger vehicle collides with a semi-truck taking a left-turn in an intersection.
Many truck drivers and tractor-trailer manufacturers try to protect motorists by installing underride guards on their vehicles. These guards may take the form of bars or hard-material curtains extending beyond a truck or trailer’s tailgate or sides.
While underride guards are supposed to prevent motorists from getting trapped underneath a truck or trailer, they are imperfect and do not always work as intended, especially if they were improperly manufactured or poorly maintained.
Underride Accident Injuries and Outcomes
The severity of an underride accident depends on the speed of both vehicles at the time of the crash. If one or both vehicles is moving at a high rate of speed or does not decelerate on impact, the potential for serious injury is exacerbated.
However, no matter the circumstances, underride accidents have some of the worst outcomes of all commercial vehicle accidents. They include:
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Broken bones, often in different parts of the body
- Skull fractures
- Organ damage
- Internal bleeding
- Spinal cord injuries
- Death, often by partial or total decapitation
Since underride accidents have the potential to be so dangerous, federal law requires tractor-trailers to be outfitted with underride guards in certain places on the truck.
Federal Underride Guard Laws
Underride guards can minimize and/or prevent injuries from underride accidents. While underride guards can be installed around the entirety of a tractor-trailer, federal law only requires that they be affixed to the rear of permanent or detachable commercial trailers. Additionally, federal law sets specific guidelines on the strength and material of underride guards.
However, Congress and federal regulators have taken little action on underride guards since the early 1990s. One bill, introduced in March 2021, seeks to reduce the incidence and severity of underride accidents by requiring that all semi-trucks and trailers be outfitted with side underride guards, too. At present, though, semi-truck companies and independent owner-operators have full discretion in deciding whether or not to install side underride guards.
What to Do If You’ve Been in an Underride Accident
Serious underride accidents, including those that end in death, are often preventable.
However, most semi-trucks and trailers do not have the right safety equipment needed to stop underride accidents. Sometimes, a semi-truck driver’s negligence or a company’s poor safety practices can contribute to an underride accident.
If you were hurt in an underride accident, or lost a loved one, you are likely to face significant challenges on your road to recovery. You may have to cover expenses such as:
- Expensive hospital bills
- Physical therapy treatments
- Lost income while recovering from an injury
- Reconstructive surgery
- Skin grafts
- Medical supplies such as crutches, casts, or wheelchairs
- Funeral and burial costs
You may also be eligible to pursue damages for emotional pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of companionship, and more, depending on the circumstances of your case and claim.
A Virginia commercial vehicle accident attorney can help you calculate the value of your claim and the economic costs you must bear now and in the future. Your claim may also include the emotional pain you have suffered.
Since Virginia does not have a cap on damages from underride accidents, people who have sustained serious injuries or lost loved ones often recover six- and seven-figure settlements.
Why You Need an Attorney’s Help
Recovering damages after an underride accident isn’t easy because trucking companies and their insurers are often difficult to negotiate with. They may deny or minimize a claim and try pinning the blame on an individual driver or arbitrarily write off some of your damages.
The trucking industry deals with personal injury and wrongful death claims on a daily basis. Transportation attorneys know how to save their clients money, even if it means depriving a victim of the funds they need for recovery.
If you have to go up against a trucking company, a parts manufacturer, or a logistics insurer, you need legal counsel. If you do not retain an attorney, you risk getting a poor settlement or no settlement at all.
When you are taking on an industry that knows how to defend itself, you need an equally experienced advocate who is committed to getting you the justice you need and the recovery you deserve.
Contact Us Today
If you were hurt in a Virginia underride truck accident, you can’t afford to get pushed around by a trucking company, insurance companies, and corporate lawyers. Send Kearney, Fogarty, Freeman & Joshi a message online to schedule your free consultation today.