Truck underride guards have been required by the U.S. government on large trucks over 10,000 pounds since 1998. These steel fixtures are supposed to keep drivers who strike large trucks from the rear from becoming lodged underneath the tractor-trailer, which often results in catastrophic personal injuries to those in the passenger vehicle.
The guards that are in place have been shown to drive down the number of truck accident injuries and fatalities. Still, there is research to suggest they aren’t as safe as they could be. For example, tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in 2013 revealed the guards did not withstand certain minimum strength tests and they were only effective when passenger vehicles struck them straight-on – not at an angle.
The IIHS and others have been petitioning the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for some time now to institute tougher truck underride guard standards.Last year, the agency finally released a notice of proposed rulemaking to upgrade truck and trailer underride crash protection. In the meantime, those who have suffered as a result of inadequate truck underride guards have taken to the courts.
In the recent case of Quilez-Velar v. Ox Bodies, Inc., a 28-year-old mother driving her Jeep in Puerto Rico with her toddler buckled in the rear struck the back of a large, slow-moving truck owned and operated by the City of San Juan. The underride guard affixed to the rear of that truck did not stop the woman’s vehicle from becoming lodged underneath the huge semi-truck. The truck pierced the inside of the passenger compartment, causing severe lacerations to plaintiff’s head and neck. She died a few days later. Her son survived.
Her family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, as well as the manufacturer of the underride guards.
The city later paid $500,000 – the limits of its liability insurance policy – and was dismissed as a party to the complaint. the case against the manufacturer proceeded.
Jurors found the underride guard manufacturer strictly liable for the reportedly defective design of the product that failed to protect decedent. They awarded plaintiff $6 million. However, that figure was reduced to $1.2 million because jurors apportioned just 20 percent of the fault to the manufacturer. The other 80 percent fault was laid at the feet of the city, which was no longer a party to the case.
Both parties appealed. Defendant argued the court should not have allowed plaintiff’s expert witness to testify as to the supposed alternative underride guard design, one that reportedly would have been safer and easy/ inexpensive to implement. Plaintiff argued against the limitation on her damages, as she said the manufacturer should be held jointly and severally liable for the totality of the damages.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision to allow plaintiff’s expert witness testimony, so defendant’s appeal was rejected.
With regard to plaintiff’s testimony, the court decided that because there was an absence of clear Puerto Rico law on this matter, the question of joint and several liability should be certified to the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.
Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.
Quilez-Velar v. Ox Bodies, Inc., May 9, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
More Blog Entries:
SCOTUS Boosts Plaintiffs’ Chances of Collecting on Personal Injury Lawsuits, May 6, 2016, Carolina Truck Accident Lawyer Blog