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Family Files Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Trailer Manufacturer After Deadly Crash

A Houston family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against PJ Trailer Manufacturing Inc. stemming from an auto accident involving a tractor-trailer. On June 11, 2014. Kathryn M. Dodgen was driving to work when a 40-foot-long trailer was blocking all the lanes as Dodgen approached the intersection. Unable to brake in time, her car went straight underneath the trailer. Though she was only traveling about 35 mph, the trailer ripped through her windshield, tearing off the roof of her Hyundai Elantra. After suffering severe head trauma and undergoing two brain surgeries, Dodgen fell into a coma and died on October 20. She was 54.

The lawsuit accuses the manufacturer of releasing a defectively designed product onto the market, violating Texas’s products liability laws. The lawsuit claims if the trailer had underride guards and conspicuous side markings, Kathy would be alive today.

“The trailer industry has put its heads in the sand about these safety issues for decades,” said attorney Steve Fernelius, who is representing Kathryn’s family. Currently, only rear guards are a required regulation, not side guards. Without an underride rail, lower bumper or guard, the vehicle under rides the truck’s frame by traveling beneath the taller chassis of the larger vehicle.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) has been recommending side guards dating back to 1968; it did so most recently last year. In 2012, a study in the journal Traffic Injury Prevention estimated that, between 2006 and 2008, 530 people died each year in crashes after colliding with the side of a truck or trailer. It also found that in many cases, fatal injuries could have been mitigated if side guards had been in place. Absent regulation, there seems to be little incentive for manufacturers to improve safety by adding side underride guards and markings. But, Kathryn’s family hopes the lawsuit sends a message to the entire trucking industry that change is needed now.

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