A horrific truck accident that killed a 16-year-old driver has led to a $42 million verdict against a trucking company, and high hopes that the trucking industry will now improve its safety standards. The accident took place in New Mexico in 2015, when 16-year-old Riley Hein was driving on the interstate. His vehicle drove onto an embankment and ended up stuck under the side of a trailer manufactured by Utility Manufacturing Company. That vehicle was not equipped with a safety feature that would have prevented Hein’s car from getting stuck. The truck driver continued driving, dragging Hein’s vehicle for half a mile until it caught fire. The boy was burned to death.
The $42 million truck accident verdict was filed against both the manufacturer of the truck and trucking company Barkandhi Express, citing both for negligence in their decision not to have a side underride guard installed on the 18-wheeler. Though the side guards are not required by law, trucking industry representatives acknowledged during the trial that though 202 people are killed every year as a result of underride accidents, they have been fighting the use of the additional accessory for at least fifteen years.
Testimony Reveals That Deadly Truck Accidents Could Be Prevented With Side Guards
Side guards attach to the undercarriage of truck trailers’ sides specifically to prevent vehicles from sliding underneath during truck accidents. During the trial, the jury was shown a survey conducted in 2004 by the Truck Trailers Manufacturers Association, specifically requesting major trailer manufacturers for data on the costs of side guards so that the industry could create defense strategies against lawsuits for side underride truck accidents. That inquiry was spurred by a 2003 truck accident lawsuit in which a victim’s family was awarded $36 million.
Hein’s father said that the truck accident that claimed his son’s life was “entirely preventable.”
There is currently legislation in Congress requiring underride guards on the sides and fronts of trucks. That legislation would also update the standards for underride guards on the back of trucks which have been shown to be ineffective in an accident. That legislation is stuck in committee.