A semi-trailer's underride guard (also called a Mansfield bar or a Rear Underrun Protection System) is a crucial piece of safety equipment. Its purpose is simple: When a smaller vehicle crashes into the back of an 18-wheeler, the bar keeps it from traveling underneath the trailer—at least that's what should happen. Unfortunately the guards fail far more often than they should, and that results in severe or even fatal damage.
In this article we'll talk about why underride guards fail, how that failure results in catastrophic injuries or death, and how a lawyer who handles underride guard defect cases can help.
Why Do Underride Guards Fail?
There are several potential explanations for why an underride guard might not function appropriately during a wreck, all of which are troubling:
- Many aren't properly designed. A bar hanging perpendicular to the road with no triangulated reinforcement may bend when hit, rendering it almost useless for preventing a smaller vehicle from going under a semi-trailer. Sturdier reinforced models have been developed over the years, but many companies haven't upgraded their fleets.
- Some aren't installed correctly. Even a properly-designed guard is far less effective if it's not attached right. If it's not bolted or welded securely in place, for example, it's likely to break loose during a collision. Furthermore, if it's attached too high on the trailer then it won't properly meet and redirect the force of an incoming vehicle.
- Others aren't in good condition. One kind of trucking company misconduct that comes up again and again is neglected fleet maintenance. The expense and time requirements of keeping a truck in optimal shape often cause some less-reputable companies to delay repairs or flat-out ignore any part of the truck that isn't vital to keeping it rolling. Important as they are for safety, underride guards are sometimes allowed to rust out or remain damaged after a wreck—making them almost useless in any subsequent accidents.
- Still others aren't there at all. Arguably the worst way an underride guard can fail is by not being present in the first place. It's rare to run across a modern truck that doesn't at least have a Mansfield bar, but the majority of U.S. trucks have nothing to prevent a car from going underneath the trailer in a side impact.
We recognize that even the best-designed underride guards, in perfect shape, still can't work wonders. For one thing they don't entirely prevent collisions; they just help mitigate damage. Even then they can only do so much depending on a number of other factors in a given collision.
How Does an Underride Guard Failure Cause Injury or Death?
It's one thing to say that underride guards don't always work as intended, but what effect does that actually have during a collision?
Consider the sad case of 17-year-old AnnaLeah and 13-year-old Mary Karth: In May of 2013 the girls were rear passengers in a Ford Crown Victoria in Georgia, traveling from North Carolina to Texas for their sister's wedding, when the car was sideswiped by a semi-truck on Interstate 20. The impact spun the Ford around and the truck hit it once again, pushing the car backwards and underneath the rear of another 18-wheeler. The underride guard on the second truck reportedly failed to prevent the car from traveling partway beneath the trailer.
AnnaLeah Karth died in the collision and Mary Karth succumbed to her injuries at a hospital a few days later. Their mother, Marianne Karth, later attributed their deaths in part to the truck's underride guard failure. Since the accident she has campaigned tirelessly for stronger underride guard regulations for the trucking industry.
That tragic tale is just one of many where an underride guard didn't do its job, but whatever the reason for a guard's failure traumatic injury or death often follow.
What Can Victims Do after an Underride Guard Failure Accident?
In a nutshell: They can sue. Most underride failures occur because of negligence on either the trailer owner's and/or its manufacturer's part. In those cases the negligent party may need to answer for doing something incorrectly or failing to do anything at all.
Of course, ensuring that happens is often a complex and time-consuming process. An important first step would be to take possession of the semi-trailer and find out what caused its guard to fail, which might require careful forensic analysis. Unsurprisingly most trucking companies aren't likely to just hand over potentially-damning evidence.
That's why the help of an experienced truck accident lawyer like those at Grossman Law Offices can be invaluable. Decades of handling truck accident cases, including underride crashes, have shown that trucking companies and manufacturers rarely accept liability without a long uphill battle. Holding them properly accountable would take thorough investigation, clear evidence, and the ability to put them together into a convincing case.
Why Do Underride Guard Failure Cases Matter?
Rear underride guards have been mandatory since the 1950's, but tests and research have shown that current models are insufficient to prevent severe injuries or even death in underride wrecks. Various innovations and improvements exist, from sturdier guard supports to undercarriage protection against side-impact underrides, but so far they aren't required.
However, a company's decision not to make those improvements may open it to litigation if an underride accident victim can prove that better guards could have prevented or reduced their injuries. Suing for a dangerous product doesn't require that it violated federal regulations; if improvements to the standard guard are arguably effective and not prohibitively expensive, then a jury may not look favorably on any company that didn't apply them before an underride crash harmed someone.
The Texas attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have spent 30+ years helping people injured in all manner of truck accidents. If you would like to talk to a lawyer who handles 18-wheeler underride crashes, call today for a free consultation.