Were You Injured by a Dangerous Guardrail?
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If you have been hurt in an accident involving a guardrail or if you lost a family member due to such an accident, you should understand the latest information about these guardrails. You may have been the victim of a defective guardrail, which might entitle you to receive compensation for your injuries or a wrongful death.
The Defective Guardrail
The guardrail in question is made by Trinity Industries and is known as the ET-Plus. The guardrail assembly has been tested by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and approved for use. Texas A&M Transportation Institute developed the product and Trinity was licensed as the manufacturer. They also market the product.
Guardrails are designed to provide added protection on the highways. They are set up along the road either in between two highways or along a drop-off. The way the guardrail works is that it allows the vehicle to hit the guardrail instead of going further either into oncoming traffic or down the hill. However, it is supposed to prevent the vehicle from bouncing back into traffic or hitting other vehicles or obstacles.
The design of the guardrail is unique in that the railing feeds through a feeder chute. Once it goes into the chute, it flattens similar to a ribbon, deflecting the edge away from an oncoming automobile. There are three parts to the assembly: the extruder head, guide channels and the impact plate.
Trinity has been making these guardrails for several years, but the design supposedly changed around 2005. At this time, Trinity has been accused of altering the size of the feeder channel, making it narrower. This changed the way the guardrail worked, causing the rail to be more likely to get stuck in the feeder head. At this point, it may buckle or break. The change was only a single inch, going from five inches to four inches. The height was also reduced by a half-inch. Those these measurements are minute, they have had serious impact on drivers.
The result is that many times the guardrail becomes like a spear and impales the vehicle and potentially the people inside. According to allegations, the newly-designed guardrail was not tested by the FHWA or approved for its use.
Joshua Harmon brought the issue to the attention of the courts when he initiated a whistleblower lawsuit in 2012. Other lawsuits have since been filed, which have alleged that the altered guardrail assembly is responsible for serious injuries and even deaths.
Guardrails have been around since the 1960s when the original design had similar results as the defective Trinity product. Several other designs have been developed, which caused other issues such as an increased risk for rollovers. The ET-2000 was developed in the 1990s and manufactured by Trinity, followed by the ET-Plus.
Since the lawsuits have been initiated, four states have begun using other products along the highways. However, millions of miles still have the ET-Plus and ET-2000.
Study Against the Use of ET-Plus Guardrails
A study was completed by The Safety Institute on the guardrail assembly from Trinity. It showed that the risk of death was increased by three times when one of these guardrails were involved. The study compiled data over eight years from accidents in Missouri and Ohio. Five different designs for the guardrails were used in the study.
Two of the designs in the study came from Trinity Industries, which were the ET-2000 and ET-Plus. While the ET-Plus was based off the ET-2000, it was an updated version. It also was the altered version, which came about in 2005 and had a rate 1.36 times higher for an accident with severe injury than the ET-2000. The rate for a death was 2.86 times more.
The Safety Institute partnered with Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission to create this study. Single-vehicle crashes were analyzed, specifically those accidents where the vehicle ran off the road. The crashes which were studies occurred in Ohio from 2005 to 2013 and in Missouri from 2005 to 2014.
The results of the study showed a large enough sample size to make the information relevant. The Safety Institute then filed a motion to be part of the whistleblower case. The study has been used in lawsuits initiated by victims and families of crashes involving the Trinity guardrails.
Besides the study conducted by the Safety Institute, other investigations have been initiated against Trinity due to the number of deaths involving the guardrail assembly. Once such investigation came from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which occurred over a one-year period. The investigation centered around the testing for the ET-Plus.
It was determined that employees of FHWA verified the tests instead of a third party. The testing was done by the Texas Transportation Institute, which happens to be a part of Texas A&M. Since the institute has received royalties from Trinity and owns the actual patent on the end terminal, there was a conflict of interest by allowing them to handle the testing.
The GAO report also focused on the oversight for the process of testing and policies for products manufactured for roadside safety. Based off the report, the GAO had several recommendations for Trinity. They included the need for a process to have a third party to verify test results and for DOT to monitor the standards for crash testing.
Another investigation was conducted by the Department of Justice, which began in 2015. The DOJ reviewed documents and conducted interviews of witnesses with the focus of the investigation on the interaction between FHWA and Trinity.
Other investigations are ongoing because of current lawsuits against the manufacturer. Many of the investigations center around determining whether the guardrail was the cause of the injury or death of the victims.
Injuries and Lawsuits Against Trinity
As more information is made public about Trinity guardrails, new lawsuits are filed to allow the victims or families to recover damages for their loss or injuries. Injuries can vary based on how the accident occurs. A person may suffer fractures, brain injury, amputation, abdomen injury, collapsed lung gastrointestinal perforation and many other injuries, including death. Some examples of injuries that have occurred in an accident involving a guardrail include the following:
- A young mother was the victim of an accident in 2013 as a passenger when the car she was traveling in went off the road and hit one of the end terminals. Her injuries included broken bones when the car became impaled. Her young son was also in the car at the time and was pinned against the roof. He suffered traumatic brain injury.
- A young man was killed when his car swerved off the road, hitting the guardrail where it impaled the vehicle through the grill.
- A man fell asleep while he was driving in 2014 and hit the guardrail, which came through the floorboard. He lost both legs in the accident.
These are just a few of the accidents that have occurred which involve a Trinity guardrail. Many of the victims or their families are now coming forward, seeking compensation for their losses.
New Rules for Guardrails
The incidents with Trinity have caused new rules to be put in place which will hopefully prevent future situations. All manufacturers must crash test their products if they make any alterations. Until they are tested and approved by the FHWA, the products may not be installed or placed into use. This new rule is in direct answer to Trinity’s claim that any alterations of the ET-Plus were not significant enough to warrant new testing.
All updated products must meet the latest guidelines even if they were approved originally under older guidelines. Manufacturers must also make public information which may show a conflict of interest regarding their products. These regulations were put into effect in 2016 and are designed to prevent another tragedy similar to the Trinity issue.
Who Qualifies for a Lawsuit Against Trinity?
Not every accident that occurs involving a guardrail will qualify for a lawsuit. In some cases, an accident can happen and the guardrail either plays no part or actually prevents further injury and damage. In other cases, the guardrail assembly does have a direct part in the injuries of the victim.
To determine if your situation qualifies for a lawsuit, an attorney would need to know how your injuries were sustained. If the guardrail caused some of your injuries, such as by impaling you or trapping you in a vehicle, then you may qualify for further litigation.
In such a case, medical records would be reviewed along with any photos and other information at the scene of the accident. This information would help determine if you should be compensated for your injuries. Many times, a person may have been injured from the impact of the crash but sustained other injuries or more serious injuries because of the guardrail assembly.
Why You Need an Attorney
It is essential to get legal help if you feel you have a case against Trinity. Going against a big company is challenging and requires irrefutable evidence to prove your case. An attorney can review your situation and determine if you have a case. They will be able to collect evidence, including studies and other documented evidence about the guardrails to strengthen your claim.
An attorney can help determine how much money to demand in your claim against Trinity. You may be entitled to compensation for various damages, which include the following:
- The cost of medical care, both past and future for any injury which was caused by the guardrail
- Loss of income because you were unable to work part or all of the time
- Pain and suffering which resulted from the injury and may include loss of the quality of life and damage to relationships
It is the job of the attorney to prove these damages and to seek compensation from the responsible party.
If you have been injured in an accident involving guardrails, you may have incurred numerous expenses which have resulted in a major financial burden being placed on your family. If you are unable to work, you may not be able to provide for your family. Even if you have health insurance, you may have deductibles and copays to meet. In addition, you can end up exhausting your limits and be left paying for all other expenses.
Medical care is expensive, especially if your condition is permanent. You may need special assistive devices to help you function or continuing care. If your injury means you can no longer work and provide for your family, you may be entitled to compensation which will cover those expenses. You may have to deal with emotional distress over your injuries as well as physical complications. Some of the expenses which would be included in your claim include the following:
- Emergency care
- Hospital stay
- Physical therapy
- Post-hospital care or in-home health care
- Special devices and equipment
All of these expenses add up, which can mean thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for your injury.
What You Should Do?
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one to an accident where a guardrail was involved, you can contact an attorney to discuss your case. Present any information you have including expenses and communication with your medical providers and others so your attorney can review the case. They may also need to look at the police report and other information to make a determination about your claim. If yours is a wrongful death case, you will want to show how the guardrail impacted your loved one’s death.
An experienced attorney can provide sound legal counsel for your situation. If you are entitled to money for damages, they will fight for your rights so you can move forward with your life. No matter where you are in your situation, you need to find out how to receive the compensation you deserve for a tragedy that is not your fault.