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March 2, 2023

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The rear ends of tractor-trailers are much taller than the average passenger vehicle. In a rear-end collision, a smaller car can slide underneath the trailer, potentially leading to severe injuries or death. Although federal regulations require underride guards on many commercial trucks, inspection is not mandatory, and underride guards are not fail-safe equipment.

Furthermore, driver negligence can easily lead to an underride accident. If a truck driver speeds, drives while distracted, drinks on the job, or brakes abruptly, the vehicles behind may crash into the trailer and possibly slide underneath.

If you or a loved one were injured in an underride accident caused by someone else, you could be entitled to financial compensation. Our truck accident lawyers at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC can help you pursue damages against responsible parties through an out-of-court settlement or litigation.

Contact our Chicago underride truck accident lawyer at (888) 424-5757 for a free consultation to learn more about your legal options.

Chicago underride truck accident lawyer

What Is an Underride Accident and Why is It So Dangerous?

On average, tractor-trailers sit 48 inches off the ground. The average passenger vehicle has only 16 to 20 inches between the ground and its undercarriage. The space between a tractor-trailer and the ground can be large enough for a smaller vehicle to fit.

An underride occurs when a vehicle collides with the rear of a tractor-trailer and slides underneath the truck’s bed. An underride can damage the hood, shear off the roof, or crush the passenger compartment, depending on the impact force. Nevertheless, all cases have high chances of fatal injuries and death.

Furthermore, an underride collision can trap vehicle occupants in their cars, potentially leading to delayed rescue and medical help. In severe truck accidents, car drivers and passengers die instantly.

How Often Do Underride Accidents Occur?

According to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) [1], an average of 219 deaths occur from underride crashes yearly from 2008 to 2017. However, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) states that these fatal accidents are likely underreported due to data collection variabilities on state and local levels.

While underride accidents account for a small percentage of traffic-related injuries and deaths, they are some of the deadliest and most devastating.

How Does the Government Help Prevent Underride Accidents?

In 1996, NHTSA started requiring underride guards on most commercial trucks. Underride guards (also known as rear guards) are metal bars attached to the back of a truck to prevent a vehicle from sliding underneath in a rear-end crash. The government strengthened underride guard regulations in 1998, requiring underride guards for all commercial trucks with a gross weight of 10,000 pounds or greater.

However, an underride collision can also occur in side-impact accidents. In 2017, legislators introduced The Stop Underride Act in Congress. This bill requires front, side, and rear underride guards on commercial semi-trucks weighing 10,000 pounds or more (and single-unit trucks standing more than 22 inches off the ground).

Common Causes of Underride Truck Accidents

Due to a truck’s massive size and weight, it needs more time to make a complete stop compared to an average car. Thus, truck drivers need to increase the following distance to prevent rear-ending other vehicles in front and avoid braking abruptly to reduce the risk of cars crashing into the truck’s rear.

Underride accidents usually stem from negligent driving behaviors, such as:

  • Driving Too Slowly: A slow-moving truck can be just as dangerous as speeding. If a truck moves too slowly compared to the pace of traffic, a passenger vehicle may strike its rear because the driver expects the truck to move at the same pace as everyone else. A commercial truck that must move slowly for safety reasons must have flashing hazard lights to warn others to adjust their speed.
  • Distracted Driving: Texting, eating, calling, or doing anything other than focusing on the road is extremely dangerous. For instance, a moment of inattention can force a driver to brake abruptly to avoid a hazardous situation. However, the passenger car behind the truck may not have enough time to stop.
  • Lack of Equipment: A truck must have underride guards on its rear bumper to prevent devastating injuries if a crash does occur. Furthermore, it needs reflective striping to warn others of its presence, especially when turning, wherein the truck’s trailer may not be visible to oncoming traffic.
  • Defective Safety Features: Malfunctioning lights can be a deadly hazard, especially at night. Many truck underride crashes occur due to faulty vehicle features, either due to the negligence of truck manufacturers or maintenance teams.
  • Lack of Early Warning Devices: If a large truck needs to stop at the side of the road, highway safety rules require the driver to place warning devices. Failure to do so can prevent other drivers from adjusting their speed or changing lanes in time to avoid a truck collision.
  • Reckless Driving: Improper lane changing, failure to yield the right of way, tailgating, and other irresponsible driving behaviors can lead to underride collisions. For instance, a truck operator that makes unsafe lane changes can crash into a smaller vehicle and drag it underneath the tractor-trailer.
  • Driver Fatigue: Many truck drivers work longer hours than average, which can lead to excessive fatigue. Driving while tired makes a driver more prone to mistakes due to a lack of coordination and focus; in cases of severe exhaustion, a driver may fall asleep at the wheel.
  • Intoxication: Alcohol can affect a driver’s concentration, coordination, and judgment. Furthermore, it can lead to reckless driving behaviors that, in turn, increase the risk of a serious underride crash.
  • Poor Vehicle Maintenance: The trucking industry must adhere to state and federal regulations concerning acceptable track conditions. Inadequate maintenance can lead to dangerous malfunctions, such as faulty warning lights, brake failure, loose rear guards, tire blowouts, etc.

Potential Injuries in Underride Truck Accidents

When an underride accident occurs, a car driver and their passengers may sustain catastrophic injuries, such as:

  • Traumatic brain injuries, concussions, contusions, skull fractures
  • Neck injuries, whiplash, neck fractures
  • Broken bones
  • Spinal cord trauma and paralysis
  • Burns, bruises, lacerations
  • Internal bleeding and organ damage
  • Crushing injuries
  • Amputation
  • Decapitation
  • Coma
  • Death

Many catastrophic injury cases involve instantaneous death or severe, long-term health consequences.

What to Do if You Get into a Truck Underride Accident

No one wants to imagine themselves in a collision with a semi-truck. However, it helps to know what to do if the unthinkable happens. Taking steps immediately after an underride truck accident can save lives and make the legal process more manageable.

Our truck accident lawyers recommend the following procedure:

  • Get to Safety. Victims often get trapped in their vehicles in truck underride collisions. If possible, exit your car and go to the side of the road.
  • Call Emergency Services. Call 911 as soon as possible. Ambulances will arrive to help injured victims. The police will also be on the scene to assist all individuals involved. Go to the hospital immediately if you have a head or back injury, as these can be fatal without immediate medical treatment.
  • Document the Scene. Unless you must go to the hospital immediately, try to document the scene with pictures and videos. Photographic proof can help you establish the driver’s negligence later on. Write down the contact information of the truck driver and any possible witnesses.
  • Seek Medical Treatment. Go to the hospital for treatment. If you don’t have visible injuries, the doctor will conduct an assessment to determine whether you have any underlying ones. Prompt treatment is crucial for a fast and safe recovery.
  • Contact a Personal Injury Lawyer. You will need legal assistance to recover fair compensation from the negligent driver or trucking company. Contact an attorney as soon as possible.

How to File an Underride Truck Accident Claim Against a Negligent Truck Driver or Company

If you were injured in an underride truck accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you have the legal right to seek compensation from the at-fault parties. You can file a personal injury claim if your case meets the following requirements:

  • The defendant owed a duty of care to you. Truck drivers must act reasonably and prudently to avoid injuring others. Similarly, trucking companies must mitigate risks concerning their employees and vehicles.
  • The defendant breached this duty of care. A crucial element in personal injury claims is proof of negligence. You must show that the company or truck driver failed to meet their legal obligations to avoid harming others.
  • You suffered a significant injury. You must prove that you suffered substantial physical, emotional, mental, or financial harm due to the accident.
  • The defendant’s negligence directly led to your losses. Furthermore, you must also prove that the defendant’s actions (or lack thereof) directly caused your damages, such as medical bills, emotional trauma, loss of quality of life, etc.

Who is Liable for Your Damages?

The first step in filing a personal injury claim is identifying who is responsible for the accident. Liable parties may include:

  • The truck driver
  • The trucking company
  • The manufacturer of defective truck equipment, rear underride guards, or warning devices
  • Other drivers
  • Pedestrians

Regardless of who is at fault, you will face the defendant’s insurance company when filing your claim.

What Evidence Do You Need to Recover Compensation?

Proving negligence in underride truck accidents can be challenging, which is why your truck accident lawyer will help you collect substantial evidence to support your claim, such as:

  • Surveillance footage, e.g., dash cam videos, traffic camera footage
  • Documentation of the accident scene
  • Police reports
  • Maintenance records
  • Medical records and photos of injuries sustained
  • Witness accounts
  • Expert testimony

What Damages Can You Recover?

Truck accident victims can recover financial compensation for their economic and non-economic losses, including:

  • Medical Bills: Out-of-pocket expenses for hospitalization, emergency transportation, medication, surgery, therapy, and future anticipated medical expenses.
  • Disability: Mobility aid expenses, rehabilitation costs, and other related damages if you become permanently disabled from the accident.
  • Pain and Suffering: Financial compensation for physical and emotional injuries, including physical pain, emotional trauma, mental anguish, etc.
  • Loss of Quality of Life: Financial compensation for enjoyment or quality of life lost due to your injuries.
  • Lost Wages: Financial compensation for salaries, wages, benefits, and revenue lost while recovering from your injuries or caring for an injured loved one.
  • Scarring and Disfigurement: Financial compensation for the economic and non-economic losses associated with scarring or disfigurement, e.g., surgery expenses, emotional trauma, etc.
  • Property Damage: Replacement or repair expenses for personal property damaged or lost in the accident.
  • Wrongful Death: Funeral and burial costs, pre-death medical bills, loss of consortium, grief therapy, and other related damages if your loved one dies in an underride crash.

How Your Chicago Underride Truck Accident Lawyer Can Help

Underride truck accidents often lead to devastating injuries, immense trauma, and significant financial losses. Our team will ease some of your burdens by taking over your case. We will be responsible for the following:

  • Investigating how and why the accident occurred
  • Determining who is liable for your injuries and how they were negligent
  • Calculating the extent of your damages
  • Collecting evidence to support your case
  • Filing a claim with the defendant’s insurance company
  • Negotiating a fair settlement value
  • Filing your lawsuit in civil court, if necessary

Safety Precautions to Avoid Truck Underride Accidents

The measures necessary to avoid an underride collision are the same as avoiding any type of truck accident. Always remember the following safety measures when driving near a semi-truck:

  • Increase your following distance.
  • Avoid overtaking a commercial truck. If you must overtake, create a considerable distance between you and the truck before changing lanes.
  • Never drive in a truck’s blind spots; truck drivers often cannot see smaller vehicles. If you need to pass a truck, always do so on the driver’s side.
  • Decrease your speed when you see a slow-moving or stopped truck ahead.
  • Slow down or stop altogether when a large commercial truck turns at an intersection. Never attempt to pass a turning truck from its right side.
  • Be wary of other passenger vehicles on the road. Adjust your driving accordingly.
  • Follow other traffic safety rules; do not drive while distracted, intoxicated, or tired.

Rear and side underride accidents often occur when one or more drivers are negligent. Regardless of who is at fault, these collisions are some of the deadliest among all motor vehicle accidents.

Were you or a loved one injured in a truck underride accident? If so, the personal injury attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, LLC can help you and your family pursue compensation against responsible parties. Our lawyers have extensive experience in holding truck drivers and trucking companies accountable for their negligence.

Contact our personal injury law firm at (888) 424-5757 or use the contact form for a free consultation. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team will remain private under an attorney-client relationship.

Our truck accident lawyers handle all accepted cases on a contingency fee basis. This agreement ensures you don’t have to pay our legal fees unless we win your case.

Resources: [1] NHTSA

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