The consequences and injuries that can be potentially inflicted by a high-speed car, truck or SUV collision are often severe. These accidents inflict such severe injuries because a moving vehicle that collides with another object – regardless of whether a vehicle or stationary object — a great deal of forces act upon the vehicle and its occupants. This is why many types of life-saving technology, such as crumple zones and airbags, focus on absorbing the violent forces in an accident so that the injuries to the vehicle occupants are less severe.
Aside from the safety technologies found in the vehicles themselves, guardrails commonly found alongside highways throughout Pennsylvania and the nation, also play a vital role in reducing highway accident injuries.
However, when the guardrails that are supposed to protect motorist are defective, injuries can be made worse or new injuries can be caused. The personal injury attorneys of Reiff & Bily have fought for individuals injured by defective products for more than 34 years.
How Do Guardrails Reduce Fatalities and Injury Severity?
Guardrails are an essential component of highway safety. Properly installed and constructed guardrails can reduce injuries and save lives in a number of ways. To begin with, guardrails are designed to give way when stopping a vehicle. The guardrail is designed to crumple or compress for a similar reason the cars have crumple zones. That is, the design allows for the guardrail or vehicle to crumple so the violent forces from the collision are distributed over time. By distributing the forces over a greater time period, the collision will be less severe to vehicle occupants and it should result in less severe injuries.
Aside from the impact absorbing properties of a guardrail, a guardrail also prevents the vehicle from leaving the roadway. This can mean that a guardrail can stop an out-of-control vehicle from leaving the roadway, crossing the median, and passing into oncoming traffic where a head-on collision is likely. Furthermore, a guardrail can prevent the vehicle from running off the roadway and striking an object, such as a tree, that is less likely to give way and absorb the impact safely. Finally, guardrails can prevent motorists from careening off of the roadway and into a ditch or into another roadside hazard.
What’s The Problem With ET-Plus Guardrails?
At least 9 personal injury suits have already been filed due to injuries allegedly suffered because of defective ET-Plus guardrail end terminals. Severe injuries have included:
- Rebecca Dryer of Pennsylvania was severely injured when her right leg was amputated. Ms. Dryer’s vehicle was “speared” or “impaled” by an ET-Plus guardrail end terminal that failed to crumple and absorb the impact.
- Sabrina Carrier, from Tennessee, was fatally injured after being impaled in the in the stomach by a guardrail end terminal.
- Charles Pike of Florida also had to have his leg amputated after colliding with an end terminal in his pick-up truck.
According to internal documents obtained by ABC News these injuries were caused by a simple cost-saving, but unauthorized, change to the design by Trinity Industries. According to these documents Trinity engineers reduced each end terminal by about an inch in size. This change saved the company about $2 per a unit. It is estimated that over the course of a year, the company would net about an additional $50,000 in profits. The changes made to the guardrail end terminal design result in the guardrails no longer functioning properly and absorbing the violent forces in a crash. Rather, the changes have caused the end terminals to act like a spear. With the new design, the guardrails show a much higher rate of failing to crumple. In fact, a study commissioned by The Safety Institute showed that the new ET-Plus guardrails did not perform as well as the previous design. The study determined that the new design was 1.36 times more likely to produce a severe injury and 2.86 times more likely to produce a fatality. Drivers and vehicle occupants are being impaled by the guardrail that is supposed to protect them.
27 States Have Already Banned Defective Guardrail
In a False Claims Act lawsuit brought against Trinity Industries, U.S. ex rel. Joshua Harman v. Trinity Industries Inc., a jury found Trinity liable for fraud due to the undisclosed changes made to the guardrails. Because the action was brought under a fraud statute, a trebled award was available. The jury found the company liable for fraud and awarded $525 million in damages which will be split between the whistle-blower and the US government. Furthermore, during the trial proceedings, it was disclosed that Trinity may have also misled a number of states about changes to and the safety of the product. Court records have indicated that, as early as 2006, Trinity representatives had sent a letter to officials in Vermont assuring them that the guardrails delivered were identical to the ones tested and approved in 2005.
These revelations have resulted in a number of states moving to ban or enact moratoriums on the further installation of Trinity ET-Plus guardrail end units. States that have already taken action include:
- New Hampshire
If you have already been severely injured due to a defective guardrail, contact the personal injury and defective product attorneys of Reiff & Bily today by calling (215) 274-0072. We offer free and confidential initial consultations.