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Family awarded $42 million for Crash that Killed Teen Driver

The family of a 16-year-old boy from Tijeras who died in a crash in November 2015 was awarded $42 million by a Santa Fe County jury. The 16-year-olds’ Honda Civic was trapped under a semitrailer in the crash on Interstate 40. According to reports of the incident, the victim, Riley Hein, was driving to an early band practice at his high school at approximately 6:15 a.m. A semi-truck pulling a trailer pulled into his lane, forcing him off the road. Hein’s car ricocheted off a concrete barrier, becoming lodged under the trailer. The truck driver wasn’t even aware of the accident – he actually dragged Hein’s car another half-mile down the interstate before the car burst into flames. The fire killed the 16-year-old driver. Because the family had already settled with one of the defendants (and his insurance company), the family will only be able to collect 45% of the total award. However, the family has made it clear that it isn’t about the money – they want to influence important changes in laws regarding side under guard requirements for commercial vehicles.Family awarded $42 million for Crash that Killed Teen Driver - Underride Accidents The concept of underride guards was not introduced until the late 1960s after an incident involving the death of an actress; however, the underride guards did not become mandatory until the late 1990s. These laws only pertain to rear underride guards, and the lack of side underride guards have proven dangerous for many. As much as 4,500 people suffer injuries in side underride truck accidents; up to 500 people die in the same accidents every year.

What is Underride?

Underride is something that happens in some truck accidents involving passenger vehicles and commercial vehicles. When passenger vehicles crash either into the rear or the side of trailers, they can get lodged underneath. Underride directly leads to passenger compartment intrusion (PCI). PCI occurs when the impact of a collision is focused in the passenger compartment, leading to traumatic injuries (which could result in instant death). Why does PCI occur? The answer is simple and is clear when comparing trailers to passenger vehicles. Passenger vehicles and trailers have a significant height different. All passenger vehicles have a crash/crumple zone designed to absorb the impact of the collision. When underride occurs, the impact occurs in the passenger compartment, usually at the windshield area of the vehicle. In 2015 alone, 4,000 people died as a direct result of truck accidents. In 2017, there were more than 1,600 truck accidents that resulted in side and rear underride. Over a 20-year-period, more than 1,500 people involved in truck accidents died as a direct result of side underride. Even with the legislation regarding the need for rear underride guards to prevent traumatic injuries and fatalities, the instances of underride is prominent. Considering the numbers associated with side underride accidents, there should at least be some sort of legislation on the matter.

Underride and the Federal Law

Underride and the Federal Law - Issues with Current Underride Laws Underride guards are required by federal law; however, some might say that underride guard laws are outdated. The current guard regulations were implemented in 1996 and amended in 1998. More than 20 years later, there have been no updates. Current law specifically includes FMVSS No. 223 and FMVSS No. 224 which establish the equipment standard and vehicle standard respectively. The equipment standard establishes the specific requirements that the underride guards must meet (strength requirements, testing requirements, installation requirements/instructions. The vehicle standard establishes which types of vehicles (vehicles that weigh 10,000 or more) require to be equipped with under guards and the location of the guards. It is important to note that these regulations only apply to rear underride guards – side underride guards are not required by law.

Issues with Current Underride Laws

Although there is regulation regarding rear underride guards, rear underride accidents continue to happen – resulting in injuries and fatalities. Underride guards are supposed to prevent passenger vehicles from getting lodged under trailers; however, underride guards are not making a significant difference in the instances of underride in truck accidents. Safety tests (conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) have proven that rear truck underride guards are largely ineffective. Specifically, the safety tests confirmed that underride guards are effective when passenger vehicles crash into the center of the rear guard. However, the safety tests concluded that rear guards are largely ineffective when passenger vehicles crash with the outer edges of the trailers’ rear guards. When rear guards fail to prevent underride, PCI occurs leaving occupants of the passenger vehicle dealing with fatal injuries. In the tests mentioned above, the instances of rear underride guards failing resulted in the crash dummies registering severe head and neck injuries (which would be fatal in real occupants in vehicles). The question is – if the rear underride guards have been proven to be ineffective, why haven’t there been changes to the existing regulations to make these underride guards more efficient? Although there haven’t been changes to regulations, there have been multiple attempts. In 2017, the Stop Underride Act attempted to make important changes to underride guard regulations. Specifically, the act would have resulted in stricter regulations for rear guards (to make them more efficient) and would have mandated trailers to be equipped with side guards. The act failed in 2017. In 2019, it was reintroduced; however, it continues to face opposition.

About Liability in Underride Truck Accidents

In all sorts of accidents, liability generally depends on the specific details of the case. Liability will always be based on the fact that a specific party owes a duty of care towards another party. In terms of truck accidents, liability can usually fall onto the truck driver – the truck driver should have been driving cautiously to avoid being a risk to others on the road. When truck drivers recklessly or negligently cause accidents, they could be found liable. However, trucking companies could also face liability. Trucking companies have the duty to ensure that their drivers (their employees) are being safe. They have to ensure that their drivers are appropriately trained and qualified to be on the road. They also have the duty to ensure that their commercial vehicles are in a safe condition (including that the trucks meet the minimum underride requirements). Besides truck drivers and trucking companies, the manufacturers of underride guards could also be liable for underride truck accidents. These companies that design and manufacture underride guards have the duty to ensure that their products are safe for their intended use. They must adhere to all regulations and subject their products to tests/inspections to ensure that they are not defective. When defective underride guards are negligently made available for trucking companies to purchase and install, liability for the accident will likely fall back on the manufacturer of the underride guard.

File a Claim and Recover Compensation

Do you have the right to file a claim and recover compensation? First and foremost, your right to file a claim is based on the fact that you were owed a duty of care. Depending on the specific details of the accident, you might have grounds to pursue an injury claim, a wrongful death claim, and a product liability claim, for example. If you can file a claim, could you also receive monetary compensation? Your right to recover compensation will always depend on the specific details of your claim. In general, claimants could be eligible to recover compensation for at least some of the following:
  • Medical costs
  • Lost income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of consortium
  • Funeral and burial costs
  • Property damage
  • Punitive damage
The type and amount of monetary compensation that you are eligible to recover will always depend on the details of your claim. When you seek the appropriate legal representation, you can be certain that you will recover the highest amount of compensation available for your claim.

Important Steps to Consider after an Accident

To ensure that you preserve the right to take legal action after an underride truck accident (whether you suffered injuries or a member of your family lost his or her life), it is essential that you take the appropriate action as soon as possible. You should consider doing all of the following:
  • Photograph the scene of the truck accident
  • Photograph all injuries sustained
  • Collect insurance information of all parties
  • File an incident report with the authorities
  • Collect witness information
  • Seek medical attention for all harm suffered
  • Gather all medical records
  • Report incident to insurance companies
  • Seek legal assistance with a truck accident underride lawyer
Underride Guards, Underride Truck Accidents, and Taking Legal Action How to Prevent the Risk of Fatal Underride Truck AccidentsDangers of Underride make Truck Accidents Even More Devastating If you would like to learn more about preparing to file your claim, do not hesitate to contact us as soon as possible. Our experts are ready to provide you with all the guidance that you need to pursue a successful claim.

Underride Accident Claims and the Statute of Limitations

To be able to file a claim, you must ensure that you file within the appropriate statute of limitations. A statute of limitations determines the length of time that claimants have to file their claims. When claims are not filed within the appropriate length of time, claimants could lose their right to sue. How much time do you have to file a claim for an underride truck accident? In general, truck accident claims are subject to two-year deadlines – meaning that claimants only have two years to file their claims. Although these deadlines are strict, many exceptions could apply resulting in an extended or tolled statute of limitations. If you would like to learn more about the length of time that you have to pursue your claim, do not hesitate to seek legal assistance today.

Contact Downtown LA Law Group Today

For drivers that constantly drive on highways or streets with an abundance of commercial vehicles, trucks are simply another vehicle on the road. We are used to driving along with commercial trucks. Although many of use might have had to slow down significantly after being cut-off by a commercial vehicle, it’s never something that we expect to happen. However, accidents can happen – accidents with commercial vehicles can happen. In most cases, specifically when the collision occurs in the rear or side of the trailer, underride occurs. As described above, underride accidents often have catastrophic results. Although fatalities are common, survivors can suffer permanent and debilitating injuries that can change their lives forever. Injured victims and surviving family members have the right to take legal action against the parties liable for the truck underride accident and the harm suffered. If you or a member of your family suffered any type of harm (permanent injuries or fatal injuries) as a result of an underride truck accident, you might have grounds to pursue a claim; therefore, you should seek legal assistance immediately. If you are interested in learning more about your right to sue and receive compensation, do not hesitate to contact the experts at Downtown LA Law Group. Downtown LA Law Group is a personal injury law firm with many years of experience handling all sorts of personal injury claims, including truck accident claims. If you would like to allow our lawyers to evaluate your claim and guide you towards a successful outcome and the recovery of the compensation that you deserve, do not hesitate to contact our law firm as soon as possible – we are ready to represent you. At Downtown LA Law Group, we are dedicated to providing our clients with the representation that they need to reach successful claim outcomes and ultimately recover the compensation to which they are entitled. We offer a variety of free legal services which include free consultations and free second opinions. During our free consultations and free second opinions, our lawyers will be available to answer all your questions and address all your concerns – and ensuring that you and your family have access to all the information necessary to file a claim. Whether you are interested in starting your claim or you are interested in redirecting your claim after mistakenly allowing an incompetent attorney to handle your claim, you can trust our lawyers to give you the legal guidance that you need to fight for your right to sue. Providing free legal services ensures that all parties interested in pursuing a claim have access to the legal assistance that they need. Our free legal services are available as part of our Zero-Fee guarantee. Our Zero-Fee guarantee ensures that our clients never have to worry about paying any upfront legal fees for any of our legal services. Our firm is also based on a contingency structure, meaning that our clients will only be required to pay if they win their claims. If you are ready to pursue your claim, do not hesitate to contact us immediately.

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