Is one inch worth someone’s life? Is $2 worth someone’s life? Those questions should be asked in the context of horrible injuries and even deaths reportedly caused by defective guardrails made by Trinity Highway Products, an arm of Trinity Industries of Dallas, one of the world’s largest guardrail manufacturers.
Evidence in guardrail accident lawsuits indicates that Trinity secretly modified its guardrails soon after the year 2000 so that it would save $2 per guardrail, or $50,000 per year. These altered guardrails, whose modifications were not revealed to federal regulators, have reportedly led to severe crashes in which victims were pierced or impaled by guardrails when their vehicle struck the end of them, rather than the rails absorbing the impact and giving way.
Such catastrophic crashes also meant the guardrails could not be reused but would have to be replaced by the states which bought them — and paid for by taxpayers. So the $2 savings per guardrail for Trinity was greatly magnified by guardrail replacement needs.
End Terminal Failure Can be Fatal
Guardrails are provided on highways as sort of a fence, to help prevent vehicles from going off roads and into ditches or against objects. But sometimes the end of such rails — an energy-absorbing “end terminal” marked by yellow and black stripes — is struck by a car head-on.
In these cases the guardrail is supposed to furl away from the vehicle, whose impact is absorbed and slowed. But a one-inch modification made by Trinity allegedly caused the rails to stay straight and pierce oncoming vehicles.
This change to Trinity’s ET-Plus guardrails was believed to have been made secretly between 2002 and 2005. (The guardrails’ original design had been federally approved in 2000.) That means potentially defective guardrails have been manufactured, sold and installed across America for at least an entire decade, with around 500,000 of them in place.
This was brought to light by a whistleblower named Joshua Harman, who once had been a competitor of Trinity and later became a safety advocate and watchdog for motorists.
On behalf of the federal government and under the False Claims Act, Harman sued Trinity and, in late 2014, a Texas jury made a $175 million verdict against the Dallas-based company, citing fraud.
Since then, some states have elected to ban the use of Trinity’s ET-Plus guardrails, and the Federal Highway Administration has launched tests and studies of the devices. But so far there has been no guardrail recall.
Notify an Injury Attorney
If someone in your family was injured or killed in a guardrail accident due to a defective guardrail, you should notify an experienced wrongful death lawyer or personal injury attorney with the Willis Law Firm.
Our law firm stands ready to assist you with your case, starting with offering you a free legal evaluation. We then can provide you a knowledgeable guardrail accident lawyer to press a claim for your damages, including lost salary, pain, suffering, medical bills and funeral expenses.
And our help won’t cost you anything up-front or out of your pocket. That’s because the Willis Law Firm for decades has worked on a contingency fee basis, meaning we are not paid unless we win your case. And at that time, we are paid strictly from a pre-set portion of the settlement in your behalf, and not from your pocket.
Such guardrail accident lawsuits wouldn’t have been necessary if guardrails hadn’t been modified just to save a few bucks. These changes reportedly have cost the lives of at least five persons and have injured many more, including a man who lost both legs when his vehicle was pierced by the end of a defective guardrail.
One Inch Matters
In short, one inch matters. By reducing the size of its end terminals from 5 inches to 4 inches, Trinity made the guardrails more prone to failure. Here’s how:
- Customarily guardrails should transfer the force of an impact into an end terminal, which should slide along the guardrail’s path in the direction that the car is moving, pushing the rail out of the vehicle’s movement.
- As this occurs, the guardrail itself should compress and ribbon away to one or both sides, keeping out of the vehicle’s path.
- However, after the end terminal’s rail head was shaved to four inches, the more narrow channel then reportedly could cause the rail to lock and jam rather than peel away. Instead of acting as a shock absorber, it’s believed the locked rail then could pierce the oncoming vehicle like a spear, causing injuries or even death.
Since this revelation, individuals have filed wrongful death or personal injury guardrail lawsuits against the manufacturer. Also, a federal lawsuit has begun, and states such as Nevada, Missouri and Massachusetts have banned using Trinity’s guardrails.
Meanwhile, the Federal Highway Administration is making its own belated tests of Trinity’s modified guardrails and is assessing hundreds of guardrail crashes.
Your family, too, may need to join these guardrail accident lawsuits. If so, let us know, because we can help. We can provide a skilled guardrail crash lawyer or attorney for your case — and as noted, we can do this at no direct cost to you.
Notify us today about your guardrail accident legal needs, and let us help. We’re ready. Are you?