Underride guards are steel bars affixed to the back of tractor-trailers to prevent the front of a passenger vehicle from going underneath the trailer in the event of a car accident.
But of course, it only works when properly constructed. In the case of Quilez-Velar v. Ox Bodies, Inc., the allegation was that the underride guards affixed to a tractor-trailer in San Juan, Puerto Rico failed in their main functional objective: To keep a car from riding up underneath a large truck. This resulted in the death of a young mother, who was driving with her toddler son.
A product liability lawsuit was filed against the maker of the company. While a jury decided the case in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $6 million, jurors also apportioned 80 percent of the fault to the city of San Juan – which was a non-party in the injury lawsuit. This was bad news for plaintiff’s in their wrongful death lawsuit because it meant that the $6 million damage award would be reduced to just $1.2 million. Plaintiff, representative of decedent’s estate, appealed.
According to court records, the crash occurred Oct. 1, 2010, when a 28-year-old married woman was driving her toddler son on a highway overpass in her Jeep Liberty. The Jeep collided with a large, slowly-moving truck operated by employees of the City of San Juan. The truck had an underride guard that was affixed to its rear. That feature was manufactured by a company called ox Bodies.
The Jeep struck the truck from behind and underrode the body of the truck. The back of the truck penetrated the Jeep, causing lacerations to the victim’s head and face. She died five days after the truck accident.
Her family members filed a lawsuit in a Puerto Rico court, alleging negligence and seeking damages from the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico Highway and Transportation Authority, Integrand Insurance Company and the City of San Juan. The city and its insurer later filed a third-party complaint for indemnification against the company that made the underride guards.
the city and its insurer deposited the $500,000 contribution for potential distribution if it was found liable. A court in Puerto Rico ordered that money distributed to plaintiffs and dismissed the city from the lawsuit. There was not a formal settlement, and therefore no release of liability.
An amended complaint by plaintiff was filed in federal court against the manufacturer of the underride guard.The company then filed a third-party action for indemnification against the city, at which point the city noted the $500,000 payment it had already made. Federal court judge then dismissed the city from the proceedings. The case continued with the product manufacturer as the sole defendant.
Plaintiffs asserted design of the underride guard was defective because it was too small – 16 inches on either side were left unprotected. Additionally, the guard wasn’t designed to adequately withstand impacts with loads that exceeded 7,000 pounds.
Following a 12-day trial, jurors returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff for $6 million, but determined the city was 80 percent liable, so defendant manufacturer was only responsible for 20 percent of the damage award, or $1.2 million
Both parties appealed, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed, though it certified a question on damages to the Puerto Rico court.
If you have been a victim of a traffic accident, call Chalik & Chalik at (954) 476-1000 or 1 (800) 873-9040.
Quilez-Velar v. Ox Bodies, Inc., May 9, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit
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