The family of a New Mexico teenager filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the trucking company and the manufacturer of the tractor trailer responsible for their son’s death. In what may become a landmark legal case that also highlights the dangers of fatalities from underride accidents, the jury awarded the family $42 million, as reported by WUSA-TV.
While driving on his way to band practice, the high school junior’s vehicle was sucked under by the 18 wheeler that crossed into his lane and struck his car. The impact caused the Honda Civic to get lodged underneath the truck, which dragged the teenager for half a mile on Interstate 40 through the Tijeras Canyon. The vehicle caught fire and burned the young driver to death. The jury was convinced that the 16-year-old motorist would not have died if the semi truck had been equipped with safety guardrails on its sides.
Federal law does not require tractor trailers to have side guards installed. Doing so, however, may prevent vehicles from sliding underneath moving 18-wheelers. According to WUSA-TV, the trucking industry has fought against side guards for many years. While acknowledging during the jury trial that side guards can save more than 200 lives each year, trucking industry experts have failed to adequately prevent underride accidents from occurring through an alternative method.
Tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reveal that side underride guards on tractor trailers can prevent crashes such as the one that took the life of the New Mexico teen. Underride accidents are foreseeable, and side guards may help prevent avoidable deaths. Based on the testing results and accident data, it is effectively arguable that trucking companies and tractor trailer drivers may be held liable for injuries and fatalities caused by a lack of side guards.