A recent episode of the TODAY Show drew national attention to an easily overlooked source of potentially devastating traffic accidents: utility trailers. The story featured an interview with Kristie Cox, a Minnesota woman whose husband and young daughter were killed when their sports utility vehicle was struck by an empty flatbed trailer that had come unhitched from a passing pickup truck.
A preventable tragedy
The crash occurred when the trailer separated from the oncoming truck, crossed the center line and went through the windshield of the Honda CRV, instantly killing Cox's husband and three-year-old daughter. The couple's 11-month-old son, who was also in the vehicle, survived the crash. Now, three years after the tragedy that devastated her family, Cox is sharing her story in the hopes that it will serve as a reminder of how critically important it is for anyone towing a trailer to ensure that it is hooked up properly.
As Cox explained to KARE 11 News, she takes issue with characterizing the crash that killed her husband and daughter as an "accident" - because, she points out, in many ways it was not an accident at all. After the crash, it was revealed that the trailer was missing one of its two required safety chains, as well as the clip designed to hold the hitch pin in place. "This was completely avoidable, in every sense of the word," said Kelley McGraw, the state trooper in charge of the investigation.
Pennsylvania trailer safety laws
As is the case in most states, Pennsylvania law sets certain requirements to help guard against trailer accidents like the one suffered by the Cox family. It is illegal to tow a trailer in Pennsylvania unless it is equipped with two safety chains, which can help stop the trailer from coming loose if the hitch fails. In addition, all trailers in Pennsylvania must have a breakaway switch, and trailers that exceed a certain weight must be equipped with trailer brakes.
While these laws and other safety measures can go a long way toward helping to prevent devastating trailer accidents, they only work if people understand and follow them. Nationwide, more than 300 people have died in recent years as a result of fatal accidents involving trailers that have become unhitched from their towing vehicles - often as a result of hitching errors or improper maintenance.
Liability for trailer injuries in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, when someone is harmed by an improperly hitched trailer or other form of negligence, the law provides that the injured person is entitled to seek compensation through the civil legal system. Depending on the circumstances, successful claimants may be entitled to receive monetary compensation for their injuries and other damages, including medical bills and lost income. To learn more about the legal options that are available after a crash in Pennsylvania, talk to an experienced personal injury lawyer.