In an underride accident, a passenger car slides under the side or rear of a truck. The height of large commercial vehicles often makes it possible for a car to partly fit under a truck, while the roof and upper sides of the car are sheared off. Underride accidents are less common than override accidents, in which a truck runs over a car from behind, but they can be equally devastating. Side underride accidents usually happen at intersections, especially at night, while rear underride accidents tend to happen in situations involving limited visibility or poorly marked trucks.
Determining what caused an underride accident can be challenging. Sometimes the driver of a car causes a rear underride accident because they did not allow enough stopping distance behind the truck. Similarly, a side underride accident may occur when a driver of a car fails to pay attention at an intersection or misjudges the speed of an approaching truck. Underride accidents can result from errors by truck drivers, however, such as running a red light or suddenly stopping the truck without a proper reason. When a truck breaks down, a truck driver may fail to put out safety triangles along the road that warn other drivers about the hazard. Sometimes a truck lacks proper underride guards or conspicuity markings.
Problems With the Truck
Sometimes inadequate maintenance of a truck or defects in components such as brake lights or taillights can contribute to an underride accident. This may mean that the trucking company or the truck manufacturer bears at least some of the fault. In other cases, a truck maintenance company may be liable as well.
Legal Claims After an Underride Truck Accident
Permanent disabilities may result from underride accidents. Victims can pursue compensation from any other person or entity that contributed to the crash. Since underride accidents can result at least partly from errors by car drivers, the principle of comparative negligence may arise. Comparative negligence reduces the damages awarded to a victim in proportion to their degree of fault for an accident. Some states apply a modified comparative negligence rule, which means that a victim cannot recover damages if their fault meets a certain threshold. (This is usually about 50 or 51 percent.)
A small handful of states (and the District of Columbia) still apply a contributory negligence rule, which prevents a victim from recovering any damages if they were at fault to any degree.
To hold a truck driver or trucking company liable, a victim will need to show that the defendant breached the appropriate standard of care under the circumstances. Many federal and state regulations govern this industry, and a violation of these regulations can provide strong evidence of a breach. For example, federal regulations require that trailers of trucks have conspicuity markings to make sure that they are visible to other drivers. If a truck did not have proper conspicuity markings, this violation likely means that a breach occurred. In states that use the traditional form of the “negligence per se” doctrine, a violation of a regulation may result in an automatic finding that the defendant breached the standard of care. The victim would need to show that the defendant violated a law or regulation designed to protect people like them from the type of harm that they suffered.
Since the stakes are high, truck accident cases involving serious injuries tend to be fiercely contested by insurance companies and their attorneys. Therefore, a victim should retain an experienced truck accident lawyer to assert their rights. Some people worry about the cost of legal representation, but attorneys generally do not charge fees for their services in these cases unless they get compensation for a client. They collect their fees as a percentage of the compensation award.