Redesigned Guardrail Allegedly Contributing to Highway Injuries and Deaths

by | Oct 30, 2014 | Car Accident

Oklahoma city car accident lawyer
For many years, highway guardrails have been promoted as one of the most important safety features for state and local highways. When guardrails function properly, they absorb some of the impact as they breakaway and reduce injuries in certain car accidents involving vehicles leaving the roadway.

According to a recent article in The New York Times,14 states have stopped installing guardrails with the ET-Plus guardrail head design because of concerns that the end of the guardrail may be malfunctioning and contributing to fatal accidents. There have been a number of fatalities suspected to be linked to malfunction of the guardrail head. When the end of the guardrail, it turns it into a “spear” that seriously injures or kills the driver or passenger, rather than cushioning the impact of the vehicle.

The states of Texas and Virginia are the latest states to disallow further purchases of the guardrail, which is installed along highways in almost every state. The state of Virginia announced that it planned to remove the suspect guardrail manufactured by Texas-based Trinity Industries because the company failed to supply documentation for new crash testing.

Changes made to the guardrail design in 2005 reduced the width of the steel channel, running behind the railhead, from five inches to just four. In certain instances, this has apparently caused the railhead to become jammed, thus preventing the rail from peeling back when struck by a vehicle. When the railhead doesn’t collapse, the metal guardrail can pierce the vehicle itself, causing injury or death.

Is Manufacturer Negligence to Blame?

Manufacturers have a legal responsibility to protect consumers by not allowing defective or dangerous products to be released onto the market. Products that are flawed by design, have been made defective at some point during the manufacturing process or lack the proper warnings and instruction labels can cause serious injuries or deaths.

An article in The Boston Globe states that the manufacturer made changes to the original ET-2000 guardrails without proper notification to the Federal Highway Administration (FHA). The design changes are what allegedly caused the guardrails to become less effective. Studies found the design change increased the risk potential to motorists rather than reducing it.

Despite the reported risk, the manufacturer and the FHA continue to claim the ET-Plus model guardrails meet standard crash-test criteria. Some states are unconvinced and are now beginning to act on their own. This month, the FHA asked states to start submitting all crash data involving the ET-Plus guardrail design to the agency’s safety office.

Growing Concerns Prompt States to Halt Installation of Highway Guardrails

Internal communications from the highway administration show that engineers were expressing concerns about the performance of the guardrail in 2012. An FHA senior engineer wrote to colleagues, “There does seem to be a valid question over the field performance.” This same engineer made a comment a month later stating that it was “hard to ignore the fatal results.”

Documentation from more than a dozen lawsuits claim at least five deaths, many serious injuries and 14 accidents may have been associated with the guardrails.

Jury Finds Guardrail Manufacturer Guilty of Duping the U.S. Government

According to Bloomberg News, a federal court jury in Texas on Oct. 20 found that Trinityduped the U.S. government by hiding changes to its guardrail systems.”

Damages against the company are going to be awarded at triple the value, with an added penalty as yet to be decided by the judge. The verdict was related to the company’s fraudulent actions. The final decision on the injury cases has yet to be determined.

If you or a loved one has sustained injury in a car accident, including a case involving a highway guardrail, contact Burch, George & Germany right away for assistance.


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