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Can You Sue the Owner of a Trailer if the Underride Guard Fails?

An underride guard, or "Mansfield bar," is designed to keep passenger vehicles from traveling underneath a commercial truck's trailer during a collision—a situation that often causes serious or even fatal injuries. Unfortunately, many underride guards are poorly designed or maintained and don't achieve their stated purpose. When someone is hurt or killed in a crash with a faulty guard, victims and families may wonder: Can you sue the owner of a trailer if its underride guard failed during a collision?

Answer: Yes, you can sue the trucking company that owns the trailer and/or the manufacturer of the trailer if its underride guard fails during a crash.

The Rule

Each trailer and semitrailer with a gross vehicle weight rating of 4,536 kg (10,000 pounds) or more, and manufactured on or after January 26, 1998, must be equipped with a rear impact guard that meets the requirements of 49 CFR 571.223, in effect at the time the vehicle was manufactured. When the rear impact guard is installed on the trailer or semitrailer, the vehicle must, at a minimum, meet the requirements of 49 CFR 571.224 in effect at the time the vehicle was manufactured.

49 CFR § 393.86

In other words, practically all long-haul 18-wheelers and a handful of other big rigs are required to have rear underride protection (but not side underride protection).

What Are Underride Guards Expected to Do?

Underride guards are expected to do exactly one thing: Prevent other vehicles from traveling underneath a commercial trailer during a collision. That doesn't mean they'll stop every vehicle, of any mass, traveling at any speed, from going underneath a trailer; rather, they were designed to help prevent severe and fatal injuries in accidents that should reasonably be survivable. For instance, if someone rear-ends a pickup truck around 35-40 miles per hour they're likely to get banged up but survive, and a collision with a semi-trailer's Mansfield bar at the same speed should produce similar results. Unfortunately that isn't always the case.

How Do Underride Guards Fail?

It's fair to wonder how something as simple as a welded or bolted steel bar might not do its one job, but it happens far more than some might think. Most often when an underride guard fails, it's a matter of either flawed design or poor condition.

The design problem is fairly straightforward: A metal bar hanging from the rear of a commercial trailer isn't always sufficient to absorb the force of a crash with an incoming vehicle.

Figure 1 to the right is a basic underride guard welded or bolted to the chassis of a semi-trailer. Here's the problem: If a vehicle hits that bar at any significant speed, there's a strong possibility it'll just bend. It may absorb some force before that happens, but it's supposed to stay put.

Fig. 1: Common underride guard design

Now look at Figure 2. Adding another piece that buttresses the guard against incoming lateral force significantly reduces the chances of the guard bending or warping during the collision. It's a simple, effective, and cheap improvement to the design, yet many trailer manufacturers are still highly resistant to making the change.

Fig. 2: Improved underride guard design

The condition of an underride guard can also make a lot of difference, as a rusted or previously-damaged guard lacks the structural integrity to do its job correctly. Unfortunately many companies don't prioritize fixing or replacing underride guards, and in some cases even hide the problems rather than addressing them.

For example, some time ago we were contacted by a truck driver who was assigned a commercial trailer from his company's rotation. He told his supervisors the trailer had a number of concerning problems, including a Mansfield bar with holes rusted through it. He came to us after the company made it clear he was expected to take the damaged trailer on the road anyway, thereby compromising his and everyone else's safety.

In the end an injured truck accident victim probably won't know right away what kept a Mansfield bar from doing its job in the critical moments of an underride wreck. All they'll know is it should have protected them but didn't, and they may wonder what should happen next.

What Can I Do if I'm Hurt in a Crash with a Faulty Underride Guard?

If a truck underride accident isn't fatal it's still likely to cause severe injuries, long-lasting emotional trauma, and significant financial hardship. When a poorly-designed or -maintained underride guard fails to prevent all that, one of the most important steps victims and families can take is enlisting the help of a skilled and experienced truck accident attorney. Why? Because thorough investigation and preservation of evidence are generally key to ensuring the company is held responsible for its negligence. Taking possession of the truck and having qualified forensic analysts examine it are vital in learning the whole story, but victims are rarely able to take those decisive steps alone—and the company behind the truck almost certainly won't cooperate unless it has to.

The Texas truck accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have over 30 years' experience helping crash victims find clear evidence, build a case, and hold those who hurt them accountable under the law. If you or a loved one were injured in a crash with a defective or poorly-maintained 18-wheeler, give Grossman Law Offices a call any time for a free consultation.

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