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What Effect Does a Trailer Hitch Have In A Rear-End Collision?

If you have been involved in a an SUV or car accident in the Tampa Bay area call Tampa Personal Injury Attorney, Martin J. Hernandez at 813-755-9500
Trailer Hitch

What Effect Does a Trailer Hitch Have In A Rear-End Collision?

The effect a trailer hitch has in a rear-end collision is to significantly decrease safety because of what is called a “crash pulse” impact.

As you have no doubt noticed in Florida, people frequently tow boats, jet skis, trailers, and campers. Also, Florida drivers tend to leave these “knee knockers” or trailer hitches (also known as a “receiver hitch”) on their vehicles. Sometimes they leave it because of laziness. Other times it is to teach the person behind them a lesson not to get so close. That’ll teach them a lesson.

Did you know that the receiver hitch can actually make you less safe in the event you are involved in a rear-end collision?

How Can a Trailer Hitch Worsen Injuries in Rear-End Accidents?

It may surprise some people is to learn that the occupants of a truck with a trailer hitch can face a greater risk of injury in a rear-end collision, even if it is a low-impact crash. The reason this occurs is due to the truck’s “crash pulse.”

Trucks with a trailer hitch will have a “stiff crash impulse,”  meaning the energy and force of a rear-end collision is not evenly displaced throughout the rear of the vehicle. Instead of a “crumpling effect” that is commonly seen in fender-benders, a majority of the energy is transferred to the main part of the vehicle vs. the rear.  In other words, the impact is going straight to the frame and not crumpling.  If it had crumpled, the vehicle absorbed more energy. However, without the crumpling, the occupants absorbed the energy.

Think of it as a nail that is hit squarely by a hammer vs. one that is hit off-center. The nail that is hit square takes the entirety of the hammer’s force, whereas the nail that is hit off-center will bend or turn sideways because it receives much less of the hammer’s force.

Due to this fact, there is a greater likelihood that the occupants of a truck or vehicle with a trailer hitch may sustain whiplash-style injuries. These types of injuries in an auto or truck accident often result in neck pain, back discomfort, and/or headaches that are commonly referred to as soft-tissue injuries.

What Is A Receiver Hitch?

The receiver hitch is the part of the towing package that bolts to the rear frame of the vehicle. While a significant percentage of trucks and cars have this towing package installed on vehicles, the average person towed something less than 1% of the time.

What happens in an accident with a receiver hitch?

How Does a Receiver Hitch Increase Crash Pulse Rigidity?

In a standard rear-end collision, the force of the impact distributes by crumpling through the back bumper and chassis, or undercarriage, of the vehicle. Since the force is absorbed over a wide surface area, it significantly dissipates as it travels toward the vehicle occupants and means that the occupants absorb less of the energy from the impact.

However, if your vehicle has a fixed tongue or receiver hitch, the impact force is more concentrated. These types of hitches are permanently attached to a vehicle with long steel bars placed horizontally to the bumper, and the tow bar tongue or the ball mount juts out vertically. So during a rear-end crash, the initial force centers on the first thing it hits—in this case, the protruding metal tongue or ball of the hitch. This focused impact exerts higher forces through the frame where the hitch is bolted, which ultimately increases the amount of force, or “crash pulse,” exerted on the passengers and driver. In other words, the pulse of energy is absorbed by the passengers (occupants) and not the vehicle.

How Trailer Hitches Impacts Cause Injuries and Damages

Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden instituted a study in 2002 to measure the various dispersion of impact force during rear-end collisions. The data collected showed that vehicles with hitches involved in rear-end crashes had the following:

Increased risk for injury. Vehicles equipped with a hitch or tow bar receiver hitch have a 22% increased risk of causing severe occupant whiplash than those without hitches.

Increased risks of impact force. The occupants of the front vehicle were thrown an average of 2.5 times farther forward than those in the rear-impact vehicle. In other words, when the rear vehicle travels a mere 5 mph during a collision, the passengers in the front vehicle will feel the force and be thrown forward at a rate of 12-13 mph. This is important to note, as rear-end collisions that produce changes in acceleration below 12 mph cause the majority of crashes resulting in neck injuries.

Decreased risk for vehicle damage. Since the majority of the impact force is carried through the vehicle frame, these types of accidents often leave little physical damage to the car itself. Although this may seem like a benefit, insurance companies can use the lack of property damage to cast doubt on the severity of your physical injuries.

How Can An Occupant of a Vehicle with a Trailer Hitch Get Injured?

The trailer hitch (and ball joint, if attached) act as fixed, non-impact absorbing hardware that transfers the energy of a rear-end collision more intensely to the vehicle occupants, resulting in a 22% increase in whiplash- with women and children being most adversely affected.

The damage sustained is mostly to the frame and while you might think less damage is a good thing, it means that the vehicle occupants received a greater share of the force. For years manufacturers have developed ways for the vehicle to absorb the force of the collision and reduce the impact on the occupant; trailer hitches counteract these advances.

What can you do to increase safety if there is a receiver hitch on your vehicle?

First, make sure to remove your ball mount or any fixed non-energy absorbing receiver hitch product after use. Additionally, there are energy-absorbing products that you can install on your receiver hitch, such as this one, to lower the risk of a whiplash injury.

Why are Trailer Hitch Collision Cases More Difficult To Prove Injuries?

Insurance companies often (wrongly) equate injuries with property damage. If there is little property damage, the case will be aggressively defended and the victim may have a more difficult time recovering compensation for their injuries.

However, our experience with trailer hitch accident cases has proven time and time again that these rear-end collisions can result in significant injuries, even at low speeds.
What Should I do if I am in a Rear-End Collision and My Vehicle Has a Trailer Hitch?
If you were injured in a rear-end collision and your vehicle has a trailer hitch, there are at least 3 important steps you should take to improve your chances of proving your injuries and being properly compensated:

  1. Take pictures – Not only should you document any visual damage to your truck, but be sure to take a picture of the vehicle that rear-ended you. In many trailer hitch accident cases, the damage to the other vehicle will be far more extensive than that sustained by your truck. This provides the adjuster with a visualization of the collision’s forcefulness.
  2. Seek Medical treatment within 14-days– Because a majority of trailer hitch accidents result in soft-tissue injuries, it is important that you be seen by a doctor so that your condition(s) can be documented.
  3. EXPERTS! EXPERTS! EXPERTS! Have an expert inspect the vehicle’s frame – There may be little visible property damage, but it does not mean there is no physical proof. In past cases involving trailer hitch collisions, we have ordered a professional inspection of the frame on our client’s vehicle. If the collision was especially violent, the force sustained by the trailer hitch may have damaged the frame. Trust me, the insurance company will be hiring one to say that there was no way you could be hurt in this accident!

How a Trailer Hitch Accident Attorney Can Help You

An attorney that has handled these claims in the past will be able to advise you on the “do’s and don’ts,” as well as present a convincing case to the insurance company on your behalf. Moreover, a trailer hitch accident injury victim will have a far more difficult time effectively leveraging the option of litigation (filing a lawsuit) without an experienced attorney.

Why Does Experience With Trailer Hitch Cases Matter

Attorney Martin Hernandez has been practicing law since 2001 and has experience handling personal injury claims throughout the Tampa Bay Area and the entire state of Florida. A number of cases he has settled on behalf of his clients include rear-end collisions involving trailer hitches.

A majority of trailer hitch rear-end collisions involve trucks or SUVs. However, some clients were also driving a car with a trailer hitch. More important than the vehicle type is the science and physical evidence that play roles in supporting your injuries.

Call or Text Your Tampa Trailer Hitch Personal Injury Attorney, Martin Hernandez, at 813-755-9500

If you were injured in a car accident caused by a negligent party, contact Martin Hernandez, PA.

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