Guardrails are a common occurrence. They are a vital safety component on thousands of highways and roadways across the country. They are designed to protect vehicles from leaving the road as well as to lessen the severity of a crash. Many motorists do not even take notice of them. Guardrail energy absorbing end terminals are designed to lessen the severity of a crash, by allowing the striking vehicle to ride down the crash forces safely, without deflecting the vehicle back onto the roadway. Since the 1960s, guardrail end designs have evolved from blunt-end terminals, which often acted like spears, penetrating the vehicle compartment, to twist turn-down designs that served as a ramp, causing vehicle rollovers. Today, the W-Beam guardrail with an energy absorbing end is the most commonly used energy absorption system. In this design, the end terminal rails deformed away from the striking vehicle, either by flattening, cutting, or kinking the rail.
But what if a guardrail doesn’t provide the protections it is supposed to offer and instead is dangerous? This exact issue has cropped up in the news recently.
Trinity Industries, a major supplier nationwide of guardrails, was accused of selling systems that can malfunction during crashes and slice through cars. A jury in Texas recently found that Trinity Industries defrauded the federal government. The case was brought under the False Claims Act by a competitor who discovered that Trinity Industries made changes in 2005 to its rail head (the flat piece of steel at the front of the system) without telling the Federal Highway Administration, as is required. A major issue in the dispute concerned the allegation that the design change that Trinity made in 2005 to its ET-Plus rail head caused the guardrail system to fail. Those changes were not disclosed to the FHWA for seven years, even though the company was required to immediately report those changes.
The company sold the guardrails to state governments that, in turn, received federal reimbursement. The Texas jury awarded $175 million that will, under federal law, be tripled to $525 million. In response, Trinity Industries has suggested that it will appeal.
The ET-Plus guardrail system works by collapsing when hit head-on, absorbing the impact of a vehicle and guiding the railing out of its path. The rail head or end terminal, which is often marked with yellow and black stripes, is supposed to slide along the guardrail itself, pushing it to the side. But some state officials maintain that the redesigned Trinity produce narrowed the channel behind the head, which can cause it to jam instead of sliding along the rail. When that happens, the rail can pierce an oncoming vehicle like a harpoon, and cause injuries or deaths to occupants. A news article states that according to internal company documents, the change was expected to save about $2 on every rail head.
Delaware recently joined 29 other states in banning the installation of the end treatment (also known as a “guardrail head”) of Trinity Industries’ ET-Plus System.
On October 24, Trinity Highway Products, LLC announced that it will stop the shipment of the ET-Plus System until additional crash testing can be completed. The company has stated it will continue working with the Federal Highway Administration related to further treating and will stop shipment of the product until requested testing is completed.
At least 14 other lawsuits blame the guardrails for five deaths and more injuries, including lost limbs. A September 18, 2014 study by the Safety Institute questioned the safety of guardrail end terminals, including the ET-Plus.
If you are someone you know has been injured as a result of the ET-Plus guardrail, please let me know right away. At Stark & Stark, we represent people every day who have been injured in truck accidents and car accidents. We know what it takes to make sure your rights are protected, regardless of whether the defendant who caused the crash is a small local company or a large national corporation. I only represent injured people. I do not defend or represent insurance companies or defendants in personal injury cases. So if you have been hurt in an accident due to a faulty guardrail call me right away to discuss your situation. We’re here to help.