Tue 22nd Sep | 2015

Can Guardrails kill?

Product liability Road Safety BY


The two most popular guardrails used along the U.S. highways are made by Trinity Industries and Road Systems, Inc. The Federal Highway Administration recently announced that the guardrails made by Trinity Industries and Road Systems, Inc. have “safety performance issues” in real-world crash scenarios. The Federal Highway Administration reported five guardrail products, three by Trinity and two by Road Systems, Inc. experienced performance shortcomings in side impacts and shallow-angle collisions.

The end of a guardrail, by design, is intended to collapse when it is hit head-on by a vehicle by absorbing the impact of the vehicle, slowing the velocity of the vehicle, and guiding the railing out of the vehicle’s pathway. The terminal end or “railhead” is intended to glide along the guardrail itself though a channel behind the railhead pushing it to the side out of the path of the vehicle – in essence, the railhead is designed to “peel” the guardrail away from the vehicle upon impact.

However, Trinity Industries made a modification to their ET-Plus guardrails in 2005 by narrowing the channel behind the railhead in order to reduce the cost of manufacturing by $2.00 on each railhead. In addition to willfully weakening the railhead, Trinity also failed to report this modification to the Federal Highway Administration for evaluation and approval. These dangerous new guardrails were then installed throughout the entire country, including Florida.

As a result of Trinity’s cost-cutting in its design, its new railheads began failing across the entire country. Specifically, rather than having the guardrail “peel” away from the vehicle upon impact, the new narrower channel caused many of the rails to instead violently impale the oncoming vehicle like a spear, often causing catastrophic injury or death.

Such a modification was required to be reported immediately to the Federal Highway Administration. Shockingly, seven years passed before this modification was ever discovered. During those seven years, traffic deaths have steadily increased nationally. Traffic deaths were up 14% nationally in the first six months of this year alone and injuries were up by a third, according to data gathered by the National Safety Council.

In 2014 a Federal Whistleblower case was filed in Texas alleging that the redesign of the ET-Plus guardrail and failure to perform safety tests rendered them unsafe and that Trinity Industries made false statements to the Federal Highway Administration. As a result, in June of this year a Texas federal judge handed down a $663 million judgment against Trinity Industries. The company will surely appeal the decision.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed blaming the guardrails for causing serious injury or death in those crashes. Our firm has handled multiple guardrail failure and defective roadway cases. If you or a loved one were injured in an accident with a guardrail or a faulty roadway, contact our attorneys for a free consultation to discuss your legal options.