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Thousands of miles of dangerous guardrails are on roadways across the country, and the families of drivers and passengers who died say these guardrails are defective and dangerous to everyone on the road. At least two types of guardrails have been linked to injuries and deaths.
Guardrails are supposed to telescope or ribbon away from a vehicle upon impact. However, two types of guardrails are reportedly:
- Slicing or ramming through the vehicle on impact
- Impaling vehicle occupants
- Causing severe injuries, amputations, and deaths
Multiple deaths have been linked to the X-Lite guardrail manufactured by Lindsay Corporation and the ET-Plus guardrail manufactured by Trinity Industries.
X-Lite Guardrail Dangers
Lawsuits filed on behalf of victims and families allege the manufacturer designed and manufactured a defective guardrail system. These lawsuits claim that the Lindsay Corporation failed to disclose known defects and issues and failed to provide proper installation guidelines. They say that a design defect allows the guardrail to spear through the vehicle and its occupants.
When an SUV crashed into the X-Lite guardrail on a South Carolina interstate in April 2017, the guardrail allegedly did not perform properly and killed a 67-year-old woman. A lawsuit filed her by son alleges that the beam of the guardrail penetrated the vehicle through to the rear seat. The guardrail struck the passenger, causing her to suffer horrible and agonizing pain, internal organ damage, internal bleeding, multiple fractures, and untimely death.
Just months after the accident, a woman in Tennessee was in a similar accident and sustained injuries so severe her left leg had to be amputated, her lawsuit said. Earlier filed lawsuits also claim the guardrail failed, including a case in which the driver of a Toyota Solara crashed into converging guardrails in the median. Both guardrails penetrated the front end of the vehicle killing the driver and a passenger in the rear seat.
In another case, the front-seat passenger of a Ford Explorer was killed when the vehicle drifted from the road and hit the guardrail. More than 60 feet of guardrail penetrated through the entire length of the vehicle. The manufacturer continues to maintain that the allegations are without merit.
ET-Plus Guardrail Dangers
The ET-Plus guardrail has also been linked to serious injuries and deaths, and they too remain on roadways around the country. The ET-Plus is at the heart of dozens of lawsuits alleging the guardrail doesn’t function as it should and can effectively turn a guardrail into a metal spear that can impale through the vehicle and the passengers inside.
The design of the guardrail including a feeder chute on the terminal end that should flatten the rail like a ribbon and deflect it away from a vehicle on impact. However, the manufacturer had made changes to the design of the chute by shaving an inch from the width of the feeder chute and a half-inch from its height, allegedly to increase profits. The changes were not tested in safety trials, and the company did not seek approval from the Federal Highway Administration first.
The University of Alabama conducted safety tests on the re-designed rail and found that the ET-Plus was three-times more likely to cause fatal injuries and 36 times more likely to cause injuries than the earlier, FHA-approved guardrails.
In 2015, a Texas court found that ET-Plus maker Trinity Industries committed fraud when it changed the design of the guardrail without telling or getting approval from state or federal officials. The court ordered Trinity to pay over $600 million in penalties and damages. However, in 2017, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the verdict after finding that the company did not defraud the government.
Despite this ruling, lawsuits challenging the safety of the ET-Plus continue to be filed by the families of victims who were maimed or killed when the rail penetrated their vehicles. In February 2018, Trinity settled a proposed class action lawsuit in Canada for $400,000 but did not admit it had done anything wrong.
Where Are These Guardrails?
At least 30 states have banned ET-Plus guardrail installations because of concerns about safety. States that have banned new installations of the guardrail include:
- North Dakota
- New York
- New Mexico
- New Jersey
- New Hampshire
In addition, Virginia is removing and replacing ET-Plus guardrail end terminals after conducting its own safety tests and finding the ET-Plus failed miserably.
An X-Lite Use Survey of States finds that the guardrails are in use in at least 30 states across the country.
- West Virginia
- Tennessee (are replacing the X-Lite on all roadways 45 mph or greater)
- South Carolina (has suspended new installations)
- Rhode Island
- Puerto Rico
- North Carolina
- New York
- New Jersey
- New Hampshire
Guardrail Injury Lawsuits
In 2013, a 78-year-old woman and her sister were driving in Habersham County when the vehicle went off the road and crashed into the guardrail. The ET-Plus guardrail penetrated through the front of the car into the driver’s compartment, ultimately killing the driver. The driver’s sister filed a wrongful death lawsuit with the hopes of bringing attention to the dangers of these guardrails.
In December 2016, a 37-year-old woman was driving home with her dog when she veered from the road and hit a guardrail. One section of the guardrail cut through the windshield and peeled the roof. The driver died.
In November 2016, a 17-year-old girl was traveling at the speed limit when she left the roadway and crashed into an X-Lite guardrail. The guardrail did not telescope on impact. Instead, the W-beams pierced driver’s side compartment and exited the rear passenger side door. The driver was killed. Her father paid for a Super Bowl commercial about these dangerous guardrails hoping to get the attention of the President.
In 2018, an 18-year-old Marine was on his way to work when he crashed into an X-Lite guardrail and was killed. His mother has called upon Maryland lawmakers to remove over 900 X-Lite guardrails currently installed on public roads.
The families of those who were seriously injured or killed when they struck an X-Lite or ET-Plus guardrail are seeking justice through the legal system. They are accusing the makers of manufacturing, selling, and distributing guardrails that do not function as intended.
Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the state may be held responsible for damages caused by guardrails. The court found that exemptions to the state’s sovereign immunity apply when damages are caused by guardrails installed on state property.
The case was filed by a family who said they were driving on icy and snow-covered roads when the driver lost control and crashed in the guardrail which penetrated through the side of the vehicle and impacted the driver’s leg and foot. The family alleged the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation was negligent in the installation of the guardrail and failed to correct the uncrashworthy terminal end of the rail.
Ongoing Investigations into X-Lite and ET-Plus Guardrails
The Federal Highway Administration is currently conducting a pilot in-service performance evaluation of the most commonly installed guardrail end terminals including the ET-Plus and X-Lite. The agency is collecting data from test sites in California, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Pennsylvania. The investigation involves collecting detailed data from injurious or fatal crashes and is expected to continue through 2018. While the study is not expected to determine safety conclusions, it should help them better determine best practices and review performance evaluations for each guardrail type involved. The information is available to the public on the FHWA website.
In 2016, the FHWA also established new guardrail rules that require all guardrail manufacturers to conduct crash tests if any changes are made to a product that has already been approved, and the guardrails are not be installed or used until they are approved by the agency. Guardrail manufacturers must also make any public any data which may show a conflict of interest regarding their products.
We Can Help
If you were seriously injured or a loved one killed by a defective guardrail, know that we are here to help. Manufacturers have a high duty to ensure their products are safe and work as intended. If they fail this duty, they may be held responsible for damages the product causes.
For decades we have fought for the rights of people harmed by defective products, and we stand ready to fight for you now. Contact one of our defective guardrail injury attorneys today to learn more about your rights and whether you are entitled to seek significant compensation for your injuries and losses.