Truck accidents involving trailer underriding or under-running — where a car or other passenger vehicle passes under a trailer being pulled by a truck tractor or “big rig” — remain severe personal injury accident hazards to automobile passengers in Texas and elsewhere. Over the years, I have seen that catastrophic injuries — including occupant death by decapitation, closed-head or brain injury, and spinal paralysis — almost always result from these common tractor-trailer accidents.
Further, the trucking industry has taken the position that since no federal law specifically requires side underride protection, there is no need for same — despite the clear risk of serious injury or death from side underride collisions, which are more frequent than rear underrides. Thus, the law still fails, in large part, to protect the motoring public from this devastating auto accident hazard.
Criticism that the trucking industry has ignored these dangers to motorists came to light recently in a Texas court, when a Panola County jury found that a tractor-trailer manufacturer was negligent in failing to protect the occupants of a car that rode under the side of a trailer as the trucker pulled out in front of oncoming traffic. The collision caused the death of the car driver, as well as serious closed-head (brain) injuries and paralysis to a passenger. The negligence or fault of the trucking company was based on its failure to block side underrides — a relatively novel and mostly untested theory — and resulted in a jury verdict of almost $39,000,000 in personal injury damages.
Sadly, despite a federal law requiring truck trailers to have a rear underride guard or bar, many older trailers on our highways still lack this basic safety feature. Too, a scary reality is that, with the spread inland of Mexico-based truck traffic from the Mexico border, Texas, other border states, and eventually most of the country likely will see an increase in these always-serious wrecks. But, without stricter federal laws, jury verdicts will continue to be the only engine for change and improved motorist protection from these crashes.
For an excellent resource for learning more about these tragic, yet all-too-frequent, types ofauto accidents, as well as for research into many other highway safety issues, I recommend the IIHS (http://www.iihs.org/research/topics/trucks.html), or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, as a place to start your research.